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Have a heart, donate your organs

Kidney transplant survivor urges residents to donate

Posted: April 6, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 6, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Tim Kirby, of Canyon Country, received a kidney transplant at age 6. He is preparing to participate and volunteer as an ambassador for an upcoming Donate Life Run/Walk.

 


Children have a tough time being patient and waiting, but Tim Kirby had to learn these values quickly. For two years he was on dialysis as a toddler, waiting for his doctor to tell him he had received a kidney donation.

Kirby was born with bilateral renal dysplasia, an uncommon kidney disease the resulted in one completely nonfunctioning kidney and one kidney only working at 10 percent capacity. He had to have both removed and awaited a transplant.

The life-saving moment occurred when he was 6, when another boy his age died in a tractor accident, leaving Kirby with a matching kidney.

“You kind of feel guilty knowing that someone had to die for you to live,” said Kirby, who was raised in the Santa Clarita Valley and now lives in Canyon Country with his wife.

As an organ recipient at UCLA Medical Center 25 years ago, Kirby was one of the 79 people on average who receive an organ transplant each day, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Unfortunately, another 18 people die daily while on the waiting list for a necessary organ.

For Kirby, now 31, his mission is to increase awareness of organ donation so that more people can grow up like he did, and so fewer people have to wait.

“I was on dialysis for two years,” he said. “Others are waiting five to seven years. The waiting list should not be that long.”

The kidney is the most needed organ for transplants, said Elena de la Cruz, spokeswoman for OneLegacy, the donation service organization that serves 215 hospitals and 11 transplant centers in the greater Los Angeles area. 

There are 112,000 Americans waiting for organs, and a full 20 percent of them are Californians.

Yet only 31 percent of licensed Californians are registered donors.

“In other states, up to 70 percent of people sign up,” de la Cruz said.

A 2011 survey from Donate Life America found that 90 percent of Americans support the process, but only 30 percent knew exactly how to become a donor.

So Donate Life America, along with regional organizations, such as OneLegacy, is promoting the “20 Million in 2012” campaign to register 20 million Americans as organ donors this year.

“That’s the gap we’re trying to close,” de la Cruz said.

On the flip side, de la Cruz said OneLegacy has been highly successful in getting authorization from family members if a deceased person whose body was in shape to donate was not registered.

In those situations, California is on par with the rest of the country, she said.

Even if the 20 Million in 2012 campaign succeeds, the number of bodies that qualify for donating organs after death is miniscule.

Less than 1 percent of the population will die under circumstances that will allow them to become organ donors.

Deaths in which the person is completely brain dead will result in usable organs, such as some drowning incidents, aneurisms, fatal head wounds and strokes.

This is a small portion of causes of deaths, so “most people will not be organ donors,” De la Cruz said.

Even so, 1 percent of 26 million — the number of Californians with licenses — is higher than one percent of nine million, the current number of registered donors in the state.

Kirby believes he was saved by a donor so that he could go on and raise awareness of organ donation.

OneLegacy has a Donate Life Ambassadors program, where donor family members and transplant recipients share their experiences with others and volunteer to work with the donor community.

There are more than 500 volunteers in the Southern California area, de la Cruz said.

The fact that Kirby is here today to pursue that mission is fairly rare, even after the transplant.

Only 69.3 percent of kidney recipients live more than five years after their transplant, lower than heart or liver recipients, but higher than lung recipients.

Kirby’s body has never rejected the kidney, but he said as a teen he didn’t feel like he was going to live another decade.

Now he’s ready to live another 60 years, he said. Kirby only has to take two medications for his kidney now, compared to a dozen daily prescriptions at the peak.

After walking pneumonia put him in the hospital in 2000 — a common sickness for organ recipients — he began taking care of his body more and has since lost more than 50 pounds.

“The realistic thing is, I shouldn’t be here,” he said. “I feel blessed.”

Kirby will be an Ambassador at the April 28 Donate Life Run/Walk at California State University, Fullerton.

To participate in the Donate Life Run/Walk visit www.doantelifeoc.org. To register as an organ donor, visit your local Department of Motor Vehicles office or register online at donatelife.net.

smitchell@the-signal.com
661- 287-5593

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