Organ Transplants Provide Second Chance

November 1, 2004 by  
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In a city where organ transplantation was pioneered, the issue remains alive for those seeking help

With our medical center boasting some of the world’s best facilities, it’s not all that unusual for Houston’s doctors to make national news for some breakthrough. This summer, however, it was a patient who made headlines. Even if you didn’t see the billboards, you probably heard the story of Todd Krampitz, the 32-year-old Houston native who was put on the liver transplant list due to primary liver cancer.

His family and friends decided to take a proactive approach to finding a donor. They put his photo on two billboards along U.S. 59 with the message, “I need a liver. Please help save my life!” The billboards directed people to a website, www.toddneedsaliver.com, which had information on organ donation and a plea for families to designate Krampitz as the recipient of a dying loved one’s liver. The story gained worldwide attention and was reported in media outlets ranging from “The Early Show” on CBS to the Associated Press to Aljazeera.

The family’s efforts paid off on Aug. 12 when Krampitz underwent a successful transplant at Methodist Hospital. In a statement, Julie Krampitz said that “a generous family” donated their loved one’s liver to her husband. The statement noted that the organ was given specifically for Todd Krampitz.

After Krampitz received his transplant, the billboard on U.S. 59 near West Belfort was changed to read: “Thank you! Give the gift of life. Become an organ donor.” A spokesperson for the family told H Texas that they hoped the story will “cause thousands of people to make decisions about organ donation and to let their families know of their wishes to become donors.”

Annie Moore of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) says that the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act allows for organ donations to a specific recipient, as long as there is no payment involved. She also says that the Krampitz family has helped publicize an important issue. “His story definitely brings attention to the critical shortage of organs that are available,” says Moore. On average, according to the UNOS website (www.unos.org), 17 people die each day in the United States from the lack of available organs for transplant.

This statistic became a reality to many people in the Houston community who rallied to aid a 14-year-old girl who also was on the list for a liver transplant.

Crystal Perry had been infected with hepatitis C at birth, long before her mother, Angela Perry, was diagnosed with the blood-borne virus that attacks the liver. Mother-child transmission happens in roughly five percent of pregnancies for hepatitis C-positive mothers, according to Dr. Saul Karpen, director of Texas Children’s Liver Center, who was one of Crystal’s doctors at Texas Children’s Hospital.

When Angela was diagnosed in 1999, she began interferon/ribavirin therapy, which involves 48 weeks of injections and pills. The side effects, described by some patients as severe flu-like symptoms, including nausea, fatigue and depression, were too harsh for Angela to handle while working full time and taking care of three children at home, so she had to stop treatment.

Angela had all four of her children tested for the virus and Crystal, then 10 years old, tested positive. “When I found out she had it, I was devastated,” Angela says.

Interferon/ribavirin therapy did not work for Crystal. By 2002, the virus was causing Angela extreme fatigue, so she had to quit her job in order to take care of Crystal and her other children. The family got by on Social Security benefits for Angela’s deceased husband along with some help from their church. Crystal’s doctors were concerned at the unusual amount of damage the virus had done to her liver, but her condition seemed stable this spring.

In late June, Crystal developed a high fever and severe abdominal pain. She was admitted to Texas Children’s Hospital and placed on the liver transplant list. Doctors told Angela that her daughter would remain in the hospital until she received a new liver.

Crystal and Angela had been featured on the cover of the July-September 2004 issue of Hepatitis magazine. When some H Texas staff members read the story and learned that Crystal would spend her 14th birthday in the hospital, they wanted to help. They brought a basket of teen magazines and art activities to Crystal and some snacks for Angela, and then they sought donations from area businesses.

As usual, Houston’s business leaders showed that they see customers as neighbors, not as numbers. Roula’s Nail Spa presented Crystal with a basket of lotions and skin care products. Intele-CardNews, the leading trade magazine for the prepaid card industry, donated a stack of prepaid phone cards so Angela and Crystal could call friends and family from the hospital. Toys’R’Us gave her a gift card. The Westin Oaks on Westheimer offered Crystal two nights in a two-bedroom suite so she could invite friends for a birthday party. Astroworld came through with six free passes for Crystal and her friends. This gave Crystal something to look forward to once she recovered from her transplant.

But not every story has a happy ending. Crystal never received a new liver. Kidney failure and another infection sent her to the intensive care unit, where she died on Aug. 10. Friends and family will remember Crystal’s beautiful smile and her deep dimples, as well as her courage in the face of illness. Her mother says that Crystal’s nurses were often amazed to see that “in all the pain she was in, she was able to smile.”

Stories like these happen every day. Some end in triumph and others in tragedy. Your decision to become an organ donor can make the difference. By becoming an organ and tissue donor, you can save not just one life, but several lives.

The most important step in becoming an organ donor is to make sure your family knows about your decision. Even if you carry an organ donor card, your family has to give consent in order for your organs to be donated after you are deceased.

To obtain an organ donor card and get more information on organ donation, visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website at www.organdonor.gov or call the Health Resources and Services Administration at (888) ASK-HRSA. For information about donating bone marrow, see the National Marrow Donor Program website at www.marrow.org.

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