Transplant patients can wait lifetime for donor

More than 90,000 people are waiting for an organ transplant. Every 14 minutes another name is added to the National Waiting List. Sixteen transplant candidates die every day waiting for an organ. One person can help more than 100 people by becoming an organ donor.

Theresa Tierney from Gardnerville knows just how long that wait can be.

Tierney's twin brother Steve Clapham has instage liver disease as well as Hepatitis C and has been waiting for a liver transplant for about a year and a half.

"Steve was told one time that his liver is functioning at 20 percent," said Tierney.

Clapham lives in San Diego and has Flolan, a drug used to treat primary pulmonary hypertension, injected into him all hours of the day. Pulmonary hypertension is what is holding him back from being placed on the wait list. However, once he receives a transplant he no longer has to use Flolan.

"At one time we were considering a live donation because we're twins," Tierney said. "But I have children and a family and I am in excellent health and he didn't want anything to jeopardize that."

The medical field is constantly increasing its knowledge of science and the human body, and organ transplants are becoming more common. Last year, more than 25,000 lives were saved through organ transplants. Although the number of those awaiting transplants is rising, the number of donors is not.

A person is placed on the National Waiting List if they have a condition that will lead to organ failure and are recommended by their doctor to receive an organ transplant. They are then sent to a transplant hospital, which has to accept someone in order to be placed on the list. A person can be eligible for multiple lists depending on needs such as age, medical urgency, and organ needed.

Sissy Gansberg has seen the other side of the story.

Gansberg, 41, donated her kidney to her brother, Allan Heim, 42, from Novato, Calif., almost two years ago.

"He called me up one day and pretty much told me he was having kidney failure," said Gansberg, a nurse at Carson-Tahoe Hospital.

Heim was diagnosed with auto immune disease, which is when your body rejects an organ in your body, such as the liver. Sissy said the disease may have been a result of strep throat.

Gansberg and her brother weren't sure how long it would take to find out if he needed a transplant or dialysis. However, Gansberg was tested anyway and was found to be a compatible match.

Gansberg's husband had a hard time with it at first.

"I told him I really wanted to do it," she said. "We had always talked about if I died that I wanted to donate my organs."

After a series of tests, Gansberg and her brother had to wait a while until they got results. They had also discovered that their other sister was also compatible, but because Gansberg is taller her kidney would be larger, and she was chosen. Also, Gansberg had no history of drug use, and she seldom drinks.

A transplant was officially decided on, and right before Christmas 2004, Gansberg donated her smaller kidney to her brother.

The operation was successful. However, it didn't stop there. She was told it would take around 4 to 6 weeks to recover, but it ended up taking more than that.

"My muscles hurt, I was achy. It wasn't much fun," she said of her experience. "The recipient recovers much faster than the donor."

Two years have passed since and both Gansberg and her brother are doing fine and are healthy, save for yearly checkups. There have been no signs of the liver being rejected in her brother's body.

"If I had another one I'd do it again," said Gansberg, of donating. "There are so many people who need organs. And a lot of people are scared. It's scary having surgery. But I would do it again."

Becoming an organ donor is simple. When you register or renew your driver's license, you have the option of being an organ donor, which means that in the event that you should get into an automobile accident and killed, your organs would be donated after death has been legally declared. If you agree, a little red heart next to the words "Organ donor" is printed on your license. Also, another way is by telling your doctor.

Becoming a living donor is a little more complicated. Many people decide to donate an organ to a family member or loved one because they match blood types and qualify for other crucial factors. However, some people choose to donate without being related to someone. Although this is an extremely charitable thing to do, there is a big safety risk in doing this.

For more information on becoming an organ donor, go to or .


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