June 21, 2024

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Transplant recipients and donor families share the power of organ donation

10 min read

Throughout April, we celebrate National Donate Life Month to help encourage Americans to register as organ, eye and tissue donors and to honor those who have saved countless lives through donation. We also pause to recognize the talented professionals devoted to the transplant community who make the gift of life possible. In 2023, HCA Healthcare’s skilled transplant teams performed more than 1,200 solid organ transplants at our nine transplant centers.

Did you know? More than 100,000 people are currently on the waiting list for a lifesaving transplant, according to Donate Life America.

This number continues to grow as another person is added to the waiting list every 8 minutes. Transplants rely on the generosity of donors, and there are not enough donors to meet the need.

“It is an extreme privilege to witness HCA Healthcare’s transplant professionals work together to provide our patients with the best chance for a successful transplant and ongoing transplant care and support. They can serve transplant patients thanks to individuals who choose to donate their organs, saving the lives of loved ones – and even people they have never met,” said James Pittman, MSN, RN, assistant vice president of transplant services at HCA Healthcare. “This Donate Life Month, we strengthen our efforts to shorten the transplant waiting list by encouraging community members to register as organ, eye and tissue donors to share the gift of life with those in need.”

Types of donation

Donate Life America classifies four types of donation:

Deceased donation: Deceased organ, eye or tissue donation is the process of giving an organ (or a part of an organ), eye or tissue at the time of the donor’s death, for the purpose of transplantation to another person. At the end of your life, you can give life to others.

Living donation: Living donation offers another choice for transplant candidates, and it saves two lives: the recipient and the next one on the deceased organ waiting list. Even better, kidney and liver patients who are able to receive a living donor transplant can receive the best quality organ much sooner, often before becoming too sick or starting dialysis.

Vascularized Composite Allografts (VCA): Vascularized Composite Allografts (VCAs) involve the transplantation of multiple structures that may include skin, bone, muscles, blood vessels, nerves and connective tissue. The most commonly known type of VCAs are uterus, hand and face transplants.

Pediatric Donation: Pediatric transplants differ slightly from other organ donations — as organ size is critical to a successful transplant, children often respond better to child-sized organs. There are currently 2,000 children under the age of 18 waiting for a variety of organs, and nearly 25% of them are under 5 years old.

Register to be an organ donor on Donate Life America’s website

Donate Life Month stories

Below, we introduce you to some of the people that make up HCA Healthcare’s transplant community, from transplant recipients to donor families and living donors. Read how their lives were forever changed by organ donation and transplantation.

Brothers with rare kidney disease receive life-saving organ transplants

As children, HCA Healthcare patients and brothers Anthony and Victor Moreta were active and healthy. During adulthood, they were both diagnosed with a rare type of kidney disease called focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), which causes scarring in the filters of the kidneys. It is a serious condition that can lead to kidney failure, which can only be treated with dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Victor Moreta Victor Moreta
Victor Moreta, kidney transplant recipient

While Victor was at work as a Tampa Police Department officer in 2015, he became dehydrated and turned pale. He was taken to the nearest emergency room, where he was diagnosed with kidney failure. He was advised to seek care from a specialist for dialysis and to explore a transplant.

Victor was placed on the transplant waiting list while he began dialysis and searched for a kidney donor. After a year, he found a perfect match when the family member of a colleague was tested. Three months later, Victor received his new kidney via living donation at HCA Florida Largo Hospital’s Transplant Center.

“When they told me that I was going to have my transplant, it was a very scary thing – I’ve never had any surgery before. Everyone was so helpful, all the way from the admin reception people to the transplant intensive care unit to the kidney clinic that I still go to. I can never thank this hospital enough for what they did for me. I’ll be eternally grateful.”

Victor Moreta, HCA Florida Largo Hospital kidney transplant patient

Anthony MoretaAnthony Moreta
Anthony Moreta, kidney transplant recipient

Almost a year after Victor’s successful transplant, his brother, Anthony, was diagnosed with kidney failure. “My brother called me and told me that I need to go to [HCA Florida] Largo [Hospital] to see the doctors and see if they could do a transplant,” Anthony recalled. He received dialysis for about a year while searching for a living donor.

“A living donor can be someone who is just in general in good health. They don’t have to be blood-related, but blood type compatible,” said Dr. James Eason, Director of Abdominal Transplant at HCA Florida Largo Hospital.

About the time Anthony started to feel discouraged about finding a donor, his wife’s colleague learned she was able to donate to him. Anthony and his donor were even able to see each other in the hospital before their surgeries.

Today, you can find the brothers back to work and spending their spare time surrounded by family. “The idea of these people literally saving my life and my brother’s life is amazing,” Anthony reflected.

Heart transplant recipient shares gratitude

Patient Kathleen Hornbecker and Dr. Andrew Boyle Patient Kathleen Hornbecker and Dr. Andrew Boyle
Kathleen Hornbecker, heart transplant recipient and Dr. Andrew Boyle, medical director of advanced heart failure at HCA Florida Largo Hospital

HCA Healthcare patient Kathleen Hornbecker is proud to be able to get her blood pumping while attending cardiac rehabilitation at HCA Florida Northside Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida following her heart transplant late last year. However, six months ago, none of this would have seemed possible because her heart was failing. Over the past 20 years, she has had two heart attacks, a stroke and congestive heart failure twice.

“I knew I was dying,” Kathleen told Bay News 9. “I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t even lay down to sleep. I had to sit up to sleep.”

Dr. Andrew Boyle, the medical director of advanced heart failure at HCA Florida Largo Hospital determined Kathleen would be a candidate for a heart transplant. Dr. Boyle noted that “her heart was not squeezing, but rather rocking.” After her transplant, Kathleen’s heart is pumping as strong as ever and she was referred to another hospital within the HCA Florida Healthcare network, HCA Florida Northside Hospital for cardiac rehabilitation.

“[It’s] tremendously different,” Dr. Boyle said. “So that’s why she felt as well as she did. And that’s why she’s able to do cardiac rehab and why she’s able to get back to her usual life.”

As a transplant physician, he takes his oath to organ donor families very seriously. And, he encourages everyone to have conversations with their loved ones about organ donation because it can change and save lives. Kathleen is grateful every day someone had that conversation when her need came. “Now I definitely know how blessed I am and hopefully get to see my grandchildren grow up,” she said, adding that she now plans to live to 100.

Husband proves to be a match for wife in more ways than one

John and Megan Stathas on their wedding day.John and Megan Stathas on their wedding day.
Kidney transplant recipient, Megan Stathas, with her husband, John, on their wedding day.

Shortly after saying “I do” at the altar, John Stathas was able to prove that he was a match in more than one way for his new wife, Megan. 

During Megan’s annual physical, lab work uncovered that she was living with stage 4 chronic kidney disease. Her husband said after the initial fear, he wanted to know how he could help. That’s when John began testing, alongside the couple’s family and friends, to see if they could potentially be her donor. To Megan’s surprise, her husband was a match.

“She already has my heart. What’s a kidney?”

John Stathas, donated kidney to wife

In August 2020, John donated his kidney to his wife at HCA Healthcare’s Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center in Denver. Megan’s living donation transplant surgery went seamlessly and the couple was excited to shift their focus on growing a family.

In 2022, the couple welcomed a baby girl. “With John being able to give his wife the gift of life, and her then bringing new life into the world, it’s come full circle,” said Christine Opp, living kidney donor coordinator at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center.

“Being able to do the things that I always wanted to do, like being a mom. That’s amazing that we can go back to life as normal,” Megan added.

This Donate Life Month, John shares his advice for others: “If you are healthy and looking for something to contribute to the world or to someone, sign up to be a living donor. You might just save a stranger’s life, or save your parent’s life, or a sibling or your wife.”

Teen’s legacy lives on through organ donation

Aleya Brooks at the beachAleya Brooks at the beach
Through the gift of organ donation, Aleya Brooks’ legacy lives on.

After suffering traumatic injuries from a falling tree in 2023, fifteen-year-old cheerleader Aleya Brooks was taken to HCA Healthcare’s TriStar Skyline Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. Doctors put her on life support, but her family had to make the difficult decision to take her off life support as her condition worsened. Aleya was an organ donor.

“There was never a person that she met that she did not deeply care for,” said Jason Brooks, Aleya’s father. “She wanted to heal brain trauma, brain injuries, Alzheimer’s, etc. It’s really hard that our daughter, who was going to heal so many actually died of a traumatic brain injury. As her parents, it’s been the greatest joys of our lives, to be part of her journey.”

In a powerful gesture to show Aleya’s family that they were not alone, the care teams at the hospital hosted an honor walk for the teen, recognizing her heroism as an organ donor. Aleya’s cheerleading teammates were among the more than 500 people who lined the hospital’s halls to pay tribute to the gift of life that was being passed on.

Tristar Skyline Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kevin Hamilton said it was an emotional evening for many reasons. Aleya’s organ donation not only provided solace to her family but also comforted those who cared for her. “It’s meaningful for our staff, for our doctors, nurses that are caring for patients who pass away and to know that some good and something meaningful came out of that tragedy,” said Dr. Hamilton. 

Four of Aleya’s organs were donated to three people: A 65-year-old woman, a 36-year-old man and a 47-year-old woman. They were all given a second chance at life.

“I had my sister’s kidney for almost 35 years. So, she knows how important organ donation is,” said Aleya’s mother, Darla Brooks. “And I absolutely know that she [Aleya] would want to do anything to save more lives.”

Neighbor becomes a lifesaver

Jeremy RoseJeremy Rose
Jeremy Rose, organ donor

If you are driving around Idaho Falls, Idaho, and come across a car with a license plate that reads ‘GTBA,’ you will find transplant recipient Robert Parkinson behind the wheel. The four-letter acronym displayed on his car meaning, ‘Good To Be Alive,’ are the words that he lives by after getting a second chance at life.

This month, Robert participated in a Donate Life Month ceremony at HCA Healthcare’s Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center to share the importance of organ donation while also honoring the selflessness of Jeremy Rose, his neighbor and liver donor. Jeremy was involved in a tragic construction accident in Hawaii in 2010 that caused him to become brain-dead at 34 years old.

The family was initially hesitant to donate Jeremy’s organs with hopes that he would recover in the Hawaii hospital. Back in Idaho, Robert was not expected to survive the week without a liver transplant.

Robert Parkinson and Emily BowcuttRobert Parkinson and Emily Bowcutt
During a Donate Life Month flag raising event at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center (EIRMC), Robert Parkinson shared his experience receiving a liver from his neighbor, Jeremy Rose. Robert is pictured here with Jeremy’s sister, Emily Bowcutt, a medical and surgical director at EIRMC.

After understanding that Jeremy was not going to recover and learning of Robert’s dire condition, Jeremy’s family donated his liver on the condition it went to Robert, saving his life. Because of the role his family and sister Emily Bowcutt played in helping to decide to donate Jeremy’s organs, Robert felt compelled to honor Donate Life Month this year at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center where Emily is a medical and surgical director.

In total, three lives were saved with the generosity of Jeremy and his family. “Not a doubt in my mind he would want this,” shared Emily. Because of her experience working in the hospital, Emily says she knew no matter what they did, she was going to lose her brother. Because of the organ donation, their family found meaning in the loss of Jeremy.

The gift of life has caused these two families to grow closer. “We were more acquaintances before, and now we’re family,” Robert said. “I just want to express appreciation for the gift of life. There’s a lot of people involved, a lot of medical people involved, there’s the donor family involved, and they’re the real heroes of these stories. I’m just grateful.”

Robert now has 24 grandchildren that he now gets to watch grow up because of the generosity of Jeremy’s family.

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