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The amazing path of giving and receiving an organ donation

March 31, 2016
By Amanda Dedie (editorial@westfieldrepublican.com) , Westfield Republican

When most people perform a good deed, they don't generally expect something in return. However, sometimes, a force called karma comes full circle and returns the favor.

Meet Rebecca Wood, a 54-year-old registered nurse at Westfield Memorial Hospital. As a nurse, Wood has knowledge about the importance about a lot of medical procedures - including organ donation.

Wood's brother-in-law, Greg Osman, became a diabetic when he was 11 years old, which he contracted after having the measles. In 1994, he was one of the first people to receive a kidney and pancreas transplant at a hospital in Pittsburgh.

Article Photos

Submitted Photo
The shared donors and recipients met for the first time on Dec. 2 at a Celebration of Life ceremony at the University of Massachusetts. From left to right: Gary Lucia (Greg Osman’s donor), Amanda Harrowfield (Rebecca Wood’s recipient), Greg Osman, and Rebecca Wood.

Osman was doing well until the summer of 2006, when he started to have stomach pains. According to Wood, it took about a year to figure out that Osman had a post-transplant lymphoma, ending up with a large tumor in his abdomen, and was preparing to have a colostomy. Osman was taken off of his immunosuppressant medication, which helps prevent antibodies from attacking the foreign organ.

"While they don't cause cancer, they allow it to happen," said Wood.

Osman lost both his kidney and his pancreas, and went back on dialysis, went on chemotherapy, had to be cancer-free for a certain amount of time, and had to have his colostomy reversed in 2008. Then the process of finding an organ donor could begin.

"I had originally, way back when (Osman) had his first transplant, offered to donate a kidney to him, but he wanted a pancreas, too, which of course I can't donate that, too. So he went with cadaver organs for that. This time around, he asked if I was still willing, and I said definitely," said Wood.

The process was long. Buffalo General Hospital originally thought that Wood and Osman were a good match back in May of 2009. The transplant was supposed to happen in November, but a number of delays kept putting off the procedure. Eventually, Osman decided to go back to Pittsburgh, where his and Wood's blood was re-tested, but lo and behold, there were antibodies, so Osman was unable to have Wood's kidney.

"They said if they had transplanted him in Buffalo, he would have rejected on that table, so it turned out to be a good thing that they didn't transplant him there," Wood laughed.

In Pittsburgh, Osman went through a process where they tried to remove the antibodies from his blood by giving him a medication which was supposed to do that, but it didn't work. That's when Osman and Wood went on the list for shared donation.

"The problem with Pittsburgh is that they are specific. They don't want any antibodies, which is very difficult after somebody has had a previous transplant, and also, blood transfusions can set up these antibodies. We also went to Cleveland trying to get on as many lists as possible. Cleveland and Pittsburgh weren't really a good fit for me, so we were talking to my coordinator in Pittsburgh, and she suggested we go to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. She said they were more progressive with antibodies, doing a lot of studies, so that's how we ended up there. So we went down there in January of 2014," Wood said.

Here's the where the karma comes in - Wood ultimately did not end up being a match for Osman. But she did end up being a match for someone in Massachusetts named Amanda Harrowfield.

Harrowfield's father, Gary Lucia, did not end up being a match for Harrowfield. But he did end up being a match for someone else - Osman.

Harrowfield has had a previous kidney transplant, needed because of a hereditary disease. Wood's kidney was sent to the University of Massachusetts where Harrowfield was, and Lucia's kidney was sent to Pittsburgh for Osman.

Two years later, the foursome were able to meet.

"We went to Massachusetts in December. Harrowfield's transplant center at the University of Massachusetts was having a Celebration of Life ceremony, so we all got to meet for the first time, and that was pretty amazing," reminisced Wood.

As a nurse, Wood is extremely knowledgeable on the topic of organ donation, and hopes others can be educated on the topic, as organ donors are in extreme demand, but many are afraid to put themselves out there.

"Just to see somebody in your own life that is dealing day-to-day with the dialysis and the medications and the problems that being on dialysis can cause ... there's no reason not to donate if you're physically able. I had decided during the process, when one of the other potential donors stepped forward, that if she was chosen over me, I was still going to donate, because you can donate without an intended recipient. You can start the chain yourself of giving someone a new life," said Wood.

One has to, of course, be in good basic health. All organ-specified testing is paid for through the recipient, so there's no out-of-pocket cost for the testing. Any sort of basic health a person should be doing anyway is their responsibility, but the big testing is paid for through the recipient.

"Each center has different criteria. Through Pittsburgh, a couple of my tests were on the low side, so I was just below their cut off. For Baltimore, though, they were fine. Even if you're told no at one center, don't stop. Keep looking," advised Wood.

There are six "markers" of the donated organ that need to "match" the recipient for a perfect match. However, a person can have as few as one or two matched markers and occasionally, they won't match at all, so a hospital will just medicate the person with immunosuppresants and others.

"Pittsburgh wants you matched perfectly, but this isn't a perfect world. That's not going to happen very often. There's so many people out there that need kidneys and that's what I find frustrating right now ... You'll see people saying they're not the right type, they wish they could, but they can. Just do it through shared donation," Wood said.

After donating an organ, it is important to take it easy, says Wood.

"I had to be off of work for six weeks," explained Wood. "If I had a desk job I could have gone back to work much faster, but my job is physically demanding. Baltimore follows each of their donors for two years. Every six months you get blood work done to make sure everything is okay, and make sure you follow up with your family doctor."

Finally, Wood has nothing but good things to say about the organ donation process, and if she had advice for anyone considering it?

"Do it. It was a wonderful experience. I've said I would do it again but it probably wouldn't end well for me this time. But it's worth it," Wood said.

 
 
 

 

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