Living Donors: soldier advocates giving gift of life - abc27 WHTM

Living Donors: soldier advocates giving gift of life

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This time last year, Army Staff Sergeant HollyAnn Nicom was not doing any sit-ups, but she was running—slowly.

"The day I did that 5K, that's when I felt like I started recovering from the surgery," she said.

Less than five weeks prior to her November 2012 race, the Pennsylvania National Guard soldier was in the intensive care unit at a Connecticut hospital after donating 62 percent of her liver to a dying man.

Nicom says much like her decision to enlist in the military, this move—though calculated—came naturally.

"I strongly believe that if you feel that way about something, about anything, you need to do that thing," she said. "If you keep getting this feeling in your gut that you need to do this, you should do it."

Turns out, going with her gut was the easy part. The tougher step, she said, was finding a place that would do the transplant, no strings attached.

"It was difficult to find because most hospitals don't do altruistic donations, especially for a liver," she said. "So then it got my wheels spinning, like how I can go and make friends with someone who needs a liver so I can donate to them? It was getting a little ridiculous."

Eventually, she found a surgeon at Yale-New Haven Transplant Center willing to work with her.

Doctors say while anonymous donors like Nicom do come forward from time to time, they're not the norm—in part, due to liability. Nationwide, there are only about 250 liver transplants done via live donation each year.

Penn State Hershey Medical Center is one of the few hospitals in the northeast that performs them. Dr. Zakiyah Kadry heads up the Division of Transplantation there, and says each year up to 1,800 people die in the U.S. just waiting for a new liver. So with more than 16,000 patients on the list, she says living donors play an vital role in saving lives.

"Nothing really impacts us as negatively as a loss of a patient and sometimes when you're waiting for a donor organ to come in and they're very sick, and you see them die—it's extremely difficult for you to accept," she said. "So anything you can do for your patients to provide them with a wider option is very important."

Kadry says if a family member or close friend is sick, living donors should be sought out sooner rather than later.

"If you're dying in the intensive care unit with liver and kidney failure, that's not probably the time you want family members to step forward for donation," she said.

If a match is found early on, Kadry says it can provide incredible piece of mind for the patient who now doesn't have to wait to be bumped up on the deceased donor list.

For the donor, she said there is a 99.8 percent success rate in the operating room, though complications can occur depending on the type of transplant.

"Those who have donated, in my experience, have all come to me and have said they would do it all over again," she said.

That certainly fits the bill for Nicom, who's already considering donating one of her kidneys down the road.

"Because this experience was really rewarding," she said. "It went well. It was a good experience and it saved someone's life and I just think that's so awesome."

For more information on living donation, go to http://organdonor.gov/about/livedonation.html

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