Teen's wait for liver highlights national transplant week

More than 300 Nevadans and 8,000 Northern Californians are on organ and tissue transplant lists. The wait, which can be years, can be fatal.

Only when a patient becomes extremely ill does he or she move to the top of the list.

This is National Donate Life Month. Last year, President Bush declared the week of April 21 as National Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness Week.

Jennifer Drossulius, 15, of Sparks, has been waiting for a liver for more than two years.

She has autoimmune hepatitis, which began when she was 10. It's difficult for her to get out of bed. But on April 11, she got up at 5:30 a.m. to go to Heavenly Ski Resort to snowboard alongside an Olympian.

Chris Klug, winner of a bronze medal for giant slalom snowboarding in 2002, signed posters for Jennifer and about 30 people who have had a transplant or need one. Klug spent the rest of the day snowboarding with the group as part of fund-raiser for the Sierra Eye & Tissue Donor Service.

Klug had a liver transplant in July 2000. His story of recovery from the rare liver disease primary sclerosing cholangitis -- which killed football great Walter Payton -- was well documented at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

Jennifer says she is afraid of what will be a 12- to 14-hour operation, which takes more than a month to recover from.

"It can be scary ... but she's in good hands at Stanford (Medical Center)," Klug said. "I know some of the doctors there."

Jennifer's wait for a liver is difficult, especially because Nevada has no transplant center. The closest centers are in San Francisco and Stanford.

Jennifer's father, Kim, is willing to take the ultimate step. The 46-year-old is ready to split his liver with his daughter. But doctors say his daughter is not sick enough to warrant an operation on him or her.

"That's the point -- that's how desperate we are for organs," said Susan Drossulius, Jennifer's mother. "That we are willing to endanger people's lives for them."

Jennifer's joints are stiff and painful. She takes 20 pills a day and is pale and tired.

"Almost five years, I've been sick," she said. "My whole family is an organ donor now."

About 60 people receive a transplant every day in the United States. But each day 15 die because no organs are available. There are about 80,000 people in the country waiting for an organ transplant.


Register organs onlineat www.livingbank.org, or call 800-528-2971


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