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LifeShare Transplant Donor Services helps facilitate organs for those in need

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Nita French received a kidney and a pancreas from a man who saved the lives of five people with his organ donation.
  • Nita French received a kidney and a pancreas from a man who saved the lives of five people with his organ donation.

Nita French was losing hope. Her strength was fading, and so was her faith that she would receive a life-saving kidney and pancreas transplant.

When she was placed on the transplant waiting list, French said she was excited at the prospect of being well and feeling good again. A few months later, she began dialysis and the pain and stress started taking its toll.

“It was indescribably difficult,” French told Oklahoma Gazette. “I hoped I wouldn’t have to wait long, and I waited six more months. I got the call about a donor and was giddy with excitement. But then the donor fell through. They told me it would come soon, but it didn’t come for another 12 months. I became weak and really started to wear out.”

The call about a second donor finally came, but ultimately, it didn’t work out either. French said that was when she fell apart and could not stop crying.

“I started thinking I was never going to get my transplant,” she said.  “I thought maybe I would just continue to become sicker and then would possibly die without a transplant. I lost my hope I would one day be healthy. But every good party comes to an end, and my pity party was replaced with my decision to forge ahead because I had to.  I pulled up my bootstraps and continued to go to dialysis three days a week, follow a strict dialysis diet and try to have enough energy to take care of my little girl.”

Another two months went by, and the call she had been waiting for finally came.

“The transplant coordinator assured me this was this call, but I had my heart broken twice before and there was no way I was going to get excited again,” she said. “But the coordinator said ‘Are you ready to go to surgery?’ That was when I couldn’t contain my excitement. I could’ve done backflips all the way to the operating room.”

The surgery was a success, and French said there are no words to describe the feeling when a second chance at life has arrived.

“My mom cried when she saw me (after surgery) because I had color in my cheeks for the first time in years,” she said.  “I woke up and felt like I could jump out of bed and run a marathon.”

French said her life-saving transplant was made possible because of her donor, a man named Patrick.

“People always talk about changing the world and leaving a legacy, and donors accomplish both of those things,” she said. “Patrick saved the lives of five astoundingly grateful people. He allowed me to get married, raise my little girl, have three more healthy babies and work at LifeShare Oklahoma to save lives. His legacy lives on in me as I travel and share our story.”

She said becoming a donor is a simple process. It is supported by all major religions, and there is no cost. French said her donor’s selfless gift allows him to live on.

“Without his willingness to donate, I wouldn’t be here,” she said. “My husband wouldn’t have me, and our three little ones wouldn’t exist.  My oldest would have grown up without a mom. The gifts a donor gives are beyond what anyone can even imagine. There is no greater gift than the gift of life.”

Waiting list

More than 120,000 people are currently on a national transplant waiting list. About 900 of them are in Oklahoma.

LifeShare Transplant Donor Services of Oklahoma is a local nonprofit organ procurement organization dedicated to saving lives through the recovery of organs and tissue for transplant.

“We work closely with five transplant centers and 145 healthcare organizations to facilitate donation,” said Katy Smith, director of marketing and communications. “Additionally, we strive to raise awareness for organ, eye and tissue donation through public education, and our core purpose is ‘We Save Lives.’”

Anyone can give the gift of life, Smith said. If an individual is interested in being a donor, LifeShare encourages them to register and not rule themselves out for any reason.

“We always hear ‘I am too old’ or ‘I am too sick to be a donor,’” she said. “But if you are interested in being a donor, you should go ahead and register and let the medical professional make the decision if you can donate.”

Because of Oklahoma’s First Person Consent law, Smith said an individual who is at least 18 years of age can express his or her desire to be a donor on their driver’s license, a state ID or enrollment in Oklahoma’s online donor registry.

“We strongly believe a person’s wish to donate must be honored, if medically possible,” she said. “Organ and tissue recovery coordinators will always talk to the family about the donation before it takes place. We encourage Oklahomans to share their decision to be a donor with their families.”

Those who are under the age of 18 can declare their intent to be a donor in any document or gift, she added, but permission from a parent or guardian must be obtained before any donation can actually take place.

“An average of 22 people die each day because they did not get their transplant in time,” Smith said. “And every 10 minutes, another person is added to the waiting list. We encourage all Oklahomans to register to be a donor and to share their decision with their family.”

Visit lifeshareoklahoma.org.

Print headline: Giving hope, LifeShare works with transplant centers to help those waiting for life-saving organs

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