Celebrating 'living proof organ donation recycles life'

August 22, 1993|By Robert Erlandson | Robert Erlandson,Staff Writer

CROFTON -- Children played on the swings and slide, tossed balls and played games with clowns in funny outfits. Adults sat at picnic tables under trees, chatting as the aroma of hot dogs, hamburgers and steamed crabs filled the air.

It was a traditional any-weekend American summer picnic, except in one detail: Many of the children and adults were the recipients of life-saving organ transplants -- livers, kidneys, hearts -- who had reunited for a day of fun as "living proof that organ donation recycles life."

Carol Bryon of Davidsonville organized the picnic at Crofton Park for Donor Organ National Outreach, known as DONOR, the support group she founded in 1991 after her 10-month-old son, Zach, underwent a liver transplant at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

The idea came to her while Zach was on the waiting list for surgery, said Mrs. Bryon, 27: "There's not a lot of education out there for people about being donors."

Her newsletter reaches about 300 people around the country, but most of the group's activity involves people in the Baltimore area and Washington.

"Living proof that organ donation recycles life" is DONOR's theme and was the theme for yesterday's picnic.

Robert Merrill, 32, of Jessup sat at a picnic table cuddling his daughter Samantha, 4, as if she were the most precious thing in the world.

To the Merrill family she is. If Mr. Merrill had not donated one-fourth of his liver as a replacement for Samantha's liver, which was failing from a birth defect, the child would probably be dead.

The transplant a year ago at Hopkins seems to be successful, after the failure of an earlier gall bladder bypass, but Samantha will remain on anti-rejection drugs for the rest of her life, said her mother, Cindy. Samantha's siblings, Bobby, 21 months, and Danielle, 3 months, are healthy, Mrs. Merrill said.

"I would think most parents would do the same thing for their children," Mr. Merrill said.

Wayne Benjamin, 46, of Rising Sun and Dan Bonner, 49, of Westminster, did. Each provided a kid ney to save his daughter from renal failure and years of dialysis treatments.

When Tracey Benjamin, 20, received one of her father's kidneys in June 1992, it ended years of feeling sick, not being able to eat the things she liked and being chained to a dialysis schedule to clean the toxins from her blood that her kidneys couldn't handle. Now, said Tracey, a junior at University of Maryland Baltimore County, "I love to eat and I can do anything."

It was a different story for the Bonners. Eight days after Katie, 17, received her father's kidney, it failed because of an infection.

The family went into depression as Katie went back to dialysis, Mr. Bonner said. The teen-ager said it took her about two years to muster the courage to try again. But the second transplant, from a cadaver in January 1990, seems to be working. "She feels like she's rejoined the human race," her father said.

Calvin Wilkins, 20, also rode the emotional roller coaster. Five years ago his eyes turned yellow and he felt sick all the time. He had been born with neonatal hepatitis and remission had finally ended.

The young man held his own under medication for about a year until he became subject to fits of bleeding from the nose and mouth and unconsciousness. In October 1989, doctors performed a liver transplant. His lung problems cleared up, his blood was being oxygenated again and he was on his way to recovery, said his mother, Evelyn Wilkins.

For nearly three years, Calvin was fine. Then the jaundice returned, and he was back on medication. One day he was at Hopkins for blood tests and his kidney failed.

Two weeks later he had his second transplant.

So far so good, said the young man from Joppatowne.

Delores Brown, 65, from Washington and Earthia Dorsey, 60, of Hyattsville had their heart transplants a week apart in November 1991 at Georgetown University Hospital. They said that without the surgery, they would not have been alive to attend yesterday's picnic.

Both women said they feel good since their transplants. Mrs. Brown said she plans to volunteer as a speaker to represent transplant patients, to urge people to sign up as organ donors and to tell those waiting for organs how their lives will be improved by the operation.

"I go bowling and fishing and I love the boogie board," she said.

Information on DONOR is available at (410) 956-3756.

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