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Alive thanks to an organ donor

SCV woman survived double-lung transplant

Posted: February 15, 2009 1:05 a.m.
Updated: February 15, 2009 4:59 a.m.

Double-lung transplant recipient Arlien Hopwood, 61 of Valencia, plays with her twin 10-year-old grandsons, something she thought she would never do.

 

Arlien Hopwood had no idea she was dying 16 years ago.

"I went out running one day and after a few house lengths, I just couldn't run anymore," she said.
After first being diagnosed with asthma, Hopwood was eventually diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, which causes the airways of the lungs to narrow and gets progressively worse over time.

The same disease claimed the lives of her mother and grandmother. "Everything was a struggle, even walking from the kitchen to the bathroom," Hopwood said. "One of the things I wanted more than anything was to be able to play with my grandkids."

More than a decade passed before doctors gave her a final option. She was declared a good candidate for a double-lung transplant and told her she could have to wait up to two-and-a-half years. Nine months later, she got the call.

"I was frozen in shock," the 61-year-old Valencia resident said. "The donor was a 15-year-old boy." Five years after her successful nine-hour transplant operation and grueling monthlong recovery, Hopwood considers herself lucky.

Her son, 38, and daughter, 40, are Valencia residents and health care professionals who helped with her recovery, but she says she was given a second chance at life.

"I really want to make the most of it," Hopwood said. "Compared to the way I was before, I would have traded it all away for just one year of the quality of life I have now."

Today, Hopwood spends her time at the gym, volunteering with OneLegacy and playing with her twin 10-year-old grandsons. "I'm so thankful to the donor and his family for changing my life," she said. "My motto is to give back. Once you start living your life from that point, you get a lot in return."

The decision about whether or not to be a donor should be made before it's too late, said Dee Rickett, director of critical care at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital. "It's a busy world and we all think we'll get to it," Rickett said. "If the discussion hasn't happened and there's an unexpected tragedy, it creates a tough situation for the family."

Rickett worked in critical care services for 19 years. The past three, the hospital has been awarded the Medal of Honor by the U.S. Department of Human and Health Services for achieving top organ donation rates.

"It's an outstanding achievement," said Elena de la Cruz, spokeswoman for OneLegacy, a nonprofit, federally-designated organ and tissue recovery agency serving 200 hospitals in the greater Los Angeles area.

"In this job you get to see the best that humanity has to offer," she said. "In a time of loss, donating life-saving organs brings meaning to something people can't understand, especially when it involves the loss of a young child."|

Newhall Memorial was one of 63 hospitals statewide to receive the award last October, given for the high percentage of eligible donors from the facility.

"If we didn't react the way we do to these sensitive situations. It would delay the donation process," Rickett said. "Our compassion, professionalism and collaborative environment gives families more comfort in making the decision they feel their loved one would want."

During the recorded period of August 2006 to July 2007, seven out of nine eligible donor organs from the hospital were donated to people on the waiting list.

"It looks like a small number," de la Cruz said, "but that is the reality of organ donation. Very few people can actually become donors."

Out of the 19 million people OneLegacy serves, 402 were donors last year.

According to de la Cruz, 99 percent of deaths are due to heart failure, in which case life-saving tissue can be donated, but not organs.

It’s the one percent of deaths called "brain deaths," caused by fatal head injuries, where organs can be donated because ventilator support allows the organs to keep functioning until they are recovered.

"It gives you an idea of what a privilege it is to become a donor," she said. According to de la Cruz, more than 100,000 people nationwide are waiting for organ transplants, including more than 7,600 in the greater Los Angeles area. A new name is added to the national waiting list every 13 minutes.

"There are a lot of misconceptions about being a donor," she said. "It's important that people become educated about it."

Rickett said she wishes people were more prepared.

"We need families to have these discussions at home when it's not two in the morning and everyone's crying," she said.

Approximately 17 people die each day awaiting life-saving organ transplants, de la Cruz said.

 

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