Shock Trauma honors 'gift of life' that allowed organ surgeries

Gala recognizes organ donor, medical professionals who changed six patients' lives

April 27, 2013|By Scott Dance, The Baltimore Sun

John Jenkins knows the heartache of losing a child. But he and six other families have learned firsthand that such tragic deaths needn't be in vain.

Jenkins, 56, lost his 20-year-old son 18 years ago to a motorcycle accident. But when 21-year old Joshua L. Aversano died after being struck by a car last year, Jenkins was one of six people whose lives were dramatically changed by the tragedy. Jenkins had been waiting more than two years for a new heart.

Doctors were able to harvest not just Aversano's heart, but his liver, kidneys, pancreas and a lung, which also went to waiting patients. His skin was used in a groundbreaking face transplant surgery Maryland Shock Trauma Center doctors performed.

Shock Trauma honored the man, as well as the teams of first responders and doctors that made the transplants possible, at its "Gift of Life" gala Saturday night at the Baltimore Convention Center.

Aversano, of White Hall, was trying to cross Bel Air South Parkway in Bel Air on a Friday night in March 2012 when he was struck by a minivan, throwing him to the sidewalk. No charges were filed against the driver, because Aversano was hit outside marked crosswalks.

Aversano was airlifted to Shock Trauma, where dozens of medical experts determined that he would not survive brain injuries he suffered in the accident. Working with the Living Legacy Foundation, an organ donation group, Aversano's family agreed to donate Joshua's organs.

Over a 72-hour period, the decision changed the lives of six patients, Shock Trauma officials said.

Jenkins had been waiting 26 months for a new heart after suffering a heart attack in 2003 when he got the call. He hadn't been permitted to travel more than two hours from the University of Maryland Medical Center, given how precious the time would be if a heart became available.

While he was overjoyed to hear the news, though, he also felt profound sadness.

"What happened was a tragedy," Jenkins said. "I know the heartaches they're going through."

Along with Jenkins, four other patients ages 54 to 70 received vital organs.

Meanwhile, Aversano's death spurred one other unprecedented transplant surgery.

Richard Lee Norris, a 37-year-old Virginia man who lost his nose, chin, lips and teeth in a 1997 gun accident, underwent a marathon 36-hour surgery in which he received pieces of Aversano's skin from his scalp to his neck, as well as a new jaw, teeth, tongue and underlying muscle and tissue. The surgery required not only matches in blood type, but skin color and bone structure.

The surgery was considered the world's most extensive face transplant to date, and something Shock Trauma director Dr. Thomas M. Scalea called "the most remarkable thing I've ever seen."

Aversano's family as well as Norris, Jenkins, and three other organ recipients celebrated the medical feats — and Aversano's sacrifice — along with 1,900 guests at the gala. The event included a video message from Gov. Martin O'Malley, who is in Israel on a trade mission.

The gala was a fundraiser for a planned new Shock Trauma Critical Care Tower, scheduled to open later this year. Shock Trauma's current facilities are designed to serve 3,500 patients each year, but actually serve more than 8,600 annually.

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