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Guest Editorial: Liver transplant: A personal journey

November 18, 2013 10:28 am  •  Wesley R. Mallicone, For The Sentinel

As a licensed athletic trainer at Shippensburg University, my job is to prevent, recognize, manage and rehabilitate injuries that result from physical activity. Athletic trainers can help individuals avoid unnecessary medical treatment and disruption of normal daily life.

How ironic then that my normal daily life was affected for years and that — as I watched the collegiate athletes run, jump, steal second base and dunk — I couldn’t partake in any physical activity myself; simply getting up and going to work was exhausting enough.

As a young boy, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and then primary sclerosing cholangitis as a teenager. Primary sclerosing cholangitis is a progressive disease that leads to liver damage and, eventually, liver failure. There was nothing I could do to change my condition. Liver transplant is the only known cure, so in 2009 I was placed on the waiting list for transplant.

The first organ transplant occurred more than half a century ago, but advancements in anti-rejection drugs, new medical devices and more effective transplantation procedures are increasing transplant success and improving survival rates for children and adults who receive organs.

These innovations, combined with growing recognition and support of organ donation, mean that thousands of people like me in Pennsylvania and across the nation are being saved every year through organ transplants.

And yet, each and every day, the chances are good that at least one person in our state will die waiting for an organ. Over the last decade, an average of 490 people awaiting organs in Pennsylvania simply ran out of time each year.

Time runs out for these children and adults because suitable organs that can save their lives are not available. Right now more than 8,400 people in Pennsylvania are on the organ transplant waiting list; nationally the list exceeds 119,000.

I was one of the lucky ones. After two years on the waiting list, I got the call in August 2011 that a liver was available. After my transplant, I stayed in the hospital for nearly two weeks. Today I need to take 24 anti-rejection pills a day, but that is the easy part and I’ve never felt better.

I wish the same for those still waiting for an organ. I wish for them to experience the energy and zeal of everyday life. How can we help these people?

Passage of the Donate Life PA Act, a bill now before the Pennsylvania state legislature, would be a good start. This bill attempts to address some of the reasons why the waiting list is 8,400 men, women and children long.

According to Donate Life America, 90 percent of Americans support donation, and more than 70 percent of adults in the leading states have registered as organ donors. Yet only 45 percent of adult Pennsylvanians are registered donors. We need to increase this number.

The Donate Life PA Act will expand public education about organ donation, which is the cornerstone of a successful state donor designation campaign. It also will increase public education through training of medical, osteopathic and nursing school students and instruction of high school and college students.

Second, misconceptions and misinformation about anatomical donation processes and the uses of organ and tissue can undermine the credibility of the process and discourage people supporting organ donation from registering as a donor or deciding to donate a deceased family member’s organs. To improve public confidence in this process, the bill reinforces that organ transplantation and therapy is a priority over other uses of organs, such as research.

The Donate Life PA Act also protects donor and family rights, retaining the primary authority for the donation decision with the patient, the patient’s legal designee, and the patient’s family, and clarifies decision-making authority over donations.

It is important that the state legislature move on this bill soon so we can reduce the number of people who die waiting for organs. A press conference at the capitol Nov. 19 will create awareness about the bill and will feature recipients as well as donor families sharing their personal experiences with organ donation.

Passage of the bill will mean more men, women, and children will get a second chance at a healthy life.

That is my wish.

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