Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Woman gets Army hero's heart through directed donation

Another case of directed donation is in the news. Directed donation is the process that LifeSharers members use to offer their organs to other LifeSharers members. Famous singer Natalie Cole got a kidney transplant through directed donation several weeks ago.

Corporal Benjamin Kopp, an Army Ranger, died recently at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington as the result of wounds sustained in Afghanistan. Corporal Kopp's mother, Jill Stephenson, donated his heart to a family friend. A story in the Washington Post provides more information:

The doctors at Walter Reed raised the possibility of organ donation with Stephenson, but she said there was never much question that it would happen. Kopp had talked about it and indicated his preference both on his driver's license and in his living will with the Rangers. And organ donation wasn't something new for the family.

"I lost a brother 27 years ago. He was only 11, and our family donated his organs," Stephenson said. "And I had that sitting in my heart all these years."

On July 18, Stephenson posted an online journal entry telling family and friends about Kopp's passing and said that they were going to donate his organs.

Maria Burud, Stephenson's first cousin in Chicago, had been following Kopp's condition on the Web site. What occurred next was happenstance.

Burud and Meikle are friends who had worked together in the 1980s. Burud knew that Meikle needed a heart transplant, and Stephenson happened to see her cousin's message in time.

Stephenson had been told that the family could designate an organ recipient if the person was eligible for a transplant. At the time, Stephenson didn't think she knew anyone on the eligibility list.

"It's a pretty unusual coincidence that somebody knows somebody who needs a heart," said Dr. Michael Shapiro, chair of the Organ Transplantation Network/United Network for Organ Sharing ethics committee.

Meikle knew it might not work out, that Kopp's heart might not be a match. "It's a million-to-one shot," she said. It had taken her seven months to get on the eligibility list because she needed to build up a tolerance for heparin, a drug used to prevent blood clots during heart surgery. But she got a call later that day from Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

In the early hours of July 20 -- two days after Kopp died -- Meikle had her transplant surgery at Northwestern. She is resting at home in Winnetka, a Chicago suburb.
Directed donation is a wonderful thing. As practiced by LifeSharers members, it is legal under federal law and under the laws of all 50 states.

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