Transplant patients urge clergy to aid in organ donation process

April 21, 1994|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Sun Staff Writer

Dale Middleton will never forget May 24, 1992. It was a hot Memorial Day weekend and he had spent the afternoon buying plants.

But the event that forever cemented the day's details in Mr. Middleton's memory was a telephone call informing him that a liver had become available for his transplant operation.

"Of course, you never forget the actual call," said Mr. Middleton, 45, who even remembers what he was wearing that day. His T-shirt said "Don't take your organs to heaven; heaven knows we certainly need them here."

After eight months of waiting, Mr. Middleton, a vice president at Carroll County General Hospital, went to Pittsburgh for his 14-hour transplant operation.

"For me, it has meant feeling so much better than I ever thought I could," Mr. Middleton said of his transplant. "I don't take any days for granted."

Yesterday, he joined a panel of fellow organ recipients, a patient waiting for a transplant, and staff members from the Transplant Resource Center of Maryland for a seminar at the county Health Department.

The seminar was sponsored by the pastoral care department at Carroll County General Hospital.

Mary Chimo, director of pastoral care and chaplain at the hospital, said the seminar was arranged to help local clergy understand the organ donation process and how they may play a role in it.

"We wanted to give them knowledge to help both the donor families and recipients in their congregations," Ms. Chimo said.

Staff members from the Baltimore's Transplant Resource Center, a nonprofit agency that identifies organ donors in Maryland and coordinates organ recovery and transplant operations, told the clergy members that they can play a vital role in explaining the organ donation process to potential donor families.

"They're going through a very difficult time and they're going to look to you as a leader for them," said David C. Taylor, a clinical coordinator at the Transplant Resource Center.

"Whether you believe in organ donation, even if you don't, we hope you can support them and be as unbiased as possible," he said.

The Rev. Arthur Lillicrop, 45, director of pastoral care at Howard bTC County General Hospital and the recipient of a bilateral corneal transplant, said he didn't find the clergy supportive when he was waiting for a cornea.

"They prayed a lot, but I didn't find them helpful in dealing with the anger, despair and rejection of having to wait," Mr. Lillicrop said.

In Maryland, 800 people are on the waiting list for organ transplants. Nationally, 34,000 people are waiting for organs and about 25 percent of them will die before they get one, Mr. Taylor said.

Bobbie LaSov, 40, a respiratory therapist at Carroll County General, has been waiting for 20 months for a pancreas transplant.

A diabetic for 11 years, she says she has an "intense longing" to have the operation and "be cured."

"I live every day waiting and hoping," Ms. LaSov said. "On the other hand, I realize that someone has to die for me to live. When that time comes, I'll pray for that family and that donor."

When the Transplant Resource Center learns that a suitable, potential organ donor is available, a staff member contacts the next of kin to explain the donation process and answer questions.

"We're not there to badger the family into donation," Mr. Taylor said. "We're there to give them the option."

He said one of the most common misconceptions about organ donation is that the procedure rules out the possibility of an open casket funeral. The process is does not disfigure donors, Mr. Taylor said.

The issue of identifying donors and recipients also is of great concern to those involved. Mr. Taylor said it's rare that the donor family and recipient ever meet.

The Transplant Resource Center always sends a letter to the donor family to thank them for the organ gift and to provide general information about the recipient without identifying the person.

If the organ recipient wishes to contact the donor family, Mr. Taylor said, the Transplant Resource Center acts as an intermediary and the donor family has the option of learning more about the recipient.

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