The Gift of Life

PARKERSBURG – When her husband Rick died of a heart attack in 2010, Vicki Rieser and her children decided to donate his organs and tissues.

“It helps the grieving process…,” she said, “to know that he’s still more or less living through others.”

Rieser said two people received the gift of sight as a result of her husband’s donation and more than 50 people received bone and tissue transplants.

Today Rieser, who works as the retail manager of the cafe at Camden Clark Medical Center’s Memorial Campus, supports events promoting organ donation, like the one held Wednesday at the hospital in honor of National Organ Donation Month.

A green chair was set up in the South Tower lobby from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday with dual purposes. When empty, the chair represented the loss of a person who died waiting for a transplant, something that happens to 18 Americans every day.

People were invited to sit in the chair and talk about organ donation.

Rieser was one of three Camden Clark employees who brought pictures of a loved one to the event.

Physical therapy assistant Brooke Grubb had a framed photo of her, her sister and her niece participating in a Scioto River cleanup in Dublin, Ohio, held in memory of her father, Mike Utt. Tucked into one corner was a photo of her father, whose tibias, eyes, jaw and skin were donated after his death nine years ago.

“It meant that he was able to help more than a dozen people with body parts he no longer needed,” Grubb said.

In addition to organs the heart, liver, pancreas, kidneys, intestines and lungs, tissue can be donated to replace bone, tendons and ligaments, while corneas can restore sight, skin grafts help burn patients heal and heart valves repair cardiac damage and defects, according to information from Donate Life West Virginia.

But only 34 percent of West Virginians are registered organ donors, compared to 57 percent in neighboring Ohio, said Kathy Warhola, regional representative for Lifeline of Ohio, an organ procurement organization that operates in central Ohio and Wood County.

Warhola said the rate in Wood County has increased in recent years, something she attributes to efforts by Camden Clark to increase awareness. The hospital received Hospital of the Year honors from Lifeline of Ohio in 2013.

“We had four (organ) donors save 21 lives,” said Teresa Adams, director of inpatient nursing and Lifeline of Ohio liaison for the hospital.

Warhola said dispelling myths is a part of organ donation awareness efforts. For example, she said, an organ procurement organization isn’t contacted until after a person has died.

Dr. Abiy Kelil, pulmonary and critical care physician at Camden Clark, said the doctor treating the patient is usually not the one who discusses organ donation with the family, so there is no perception they’re more focused on another patient’s health.

Warhola encouraged people to register as organ donors, which West Virginia residents can do when they renew their driver’s license or online at www.donatelifewv.net, and tell their family of their decision.

People can be living organ and tissue donors, as Angela Hupp, a nurse practitioner with Dr. Daniel McGraw, was for her son, Andrew Sullivan, 10 years ago.

He was diagnosed with end-stage renal failure at age 7.

“They asked if we knew anyone that would want to be a live donor for him,” she said. “So I asked if I could screen for him.”

She was a match, and about six months later, Andrew received his mother’s kidney. Today, he’s a healthy and active 17-year-old.

Hupp said Wednesday’s event was important to her, especially when she considers what could have happened.

“When we were told about our son’s condition, the doctors informed us that if I wasn’t a match and we couldn’t find a live donor, the waiting list was three to four years long, and he could die,” she said.