Site follows the parallel dramas of transplants

Internet: Documentary chronicles both sides to raise awareness about the life-saving procedure.

Medicine & Science

March 29, 2004|By Jonathan Bor | Jonathan Bor,SUN STAFF

Gary Bush, a 63-year-old Californian, answers the telephone one evening and hears that his six-year wait for a new kidney is about to end. Come to the UCLA Medical Center right away, the transplant coordinator says.

About the same time, a tormented Susan Deaton sits in a Philadelphia hospital by her 18-year-old son, Julian Byrd, who is brain-dead but kept alive by machines that circulate blood through his body. She makes the biggest decision of her life, and soon, surgeons start placing his organs in basins labeled "Heart," "Lung," "Kidneys" and so on.

Anyone hooked on reality television would be hard-pressed to beat the dramas unfolding on Gift of a Lifetime, a Web-based documentary that follows the stories of people on both sides of the organ transplant equation. The stories, enhanced by audio clips, photographs and animated body maps, can be found on

Billed as the most complete Web-based documentary on a medical topic, Gift of a Lifetime has been produced by the Musculoskeletal Transplant Foundation, a tissue bank in Edison, N.J., and the Coalition for Donation, a not-for-profit marketing firm in Richmond, Va. Their idea is to sell the public on organ donation by telling people about real-life stories.

Since last week, when the site was launched, the producers have provided daily updates on their subjects as they wait for, receive, and in some cases donate organs and tissues. The stories will be updated daily through April 5. After that, a complete archive will remain.

David Fleming, executive vice president of the marketing group, said the stories are vehicles to get people to take action. Readers can download and sign an organ donor card. The site also advises to tell relatives who might someday act as their proxies about their intentions to donate.

"We want people not just to leave with the stories but also with what they have to do to become an organ and tissue donor," said Fleming.

The stories are told fully in newspaper-style articles that link to the recorded voices of people involved.

"I did have questions about the term `brain dead,'" said Deaton in one clip. "He didn't look dead. He was breathing."

Later, Deaton says a man whose son died in a car crash stopped by to share his story.

"He talked to me about what they went through as parents, making the decision and allowing their son to be an organ donor. And that really helped."

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