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SALT LAKE CITY -- When a Utah child faces an expensive organ transplant, the family can turn to a special fund for life-saving help.
Two families reunited Wednesday to celebrate a program they helped start when their children needed transplants. For 15 years, the Kurt Oscarson Children's Transplant Fund has provided financial assistance to families in need of life-saving transplants.
More than 103,000 people are currently waiting for an organ transplant in the U.S. More than 600 of them are 5 years old or younger. - "Yes Utah"
Imagine the stress of having to come up with $100,000 to save your child's life. Two families that faced that stress 20 years ago inspired the creation of the fund, so that others might get relief.
Marcia Fullmer and Judy Toone both have happy, healthy and successful adult children. But 20 years ago, Caleb Fullmer and Talysa Toone both needed expensive liver transplants to save their lives.
Toone was only 10 months old, and Fullmer was 4. Both of them were too young to truly remember what was going on, but today they know what a tough time that can be for families waiting for transplants.
"It's stressful enough to have to go through something like that and worry about the life of your child, or the life of yourself," says Caleb Fullmer. "So, I'm grateful that Talysa and I were the inspiration for the fund."
Transplant surgery is expensive. The Toones needed $100,000 for Talysa's transplant.
They held bake sales and car washes. Friends and strangers helped them through the financial stress, and Talysa got her transplant. Judy Toone says they were overwhelmed, and then overjoyed with the success of the surgery 20 years ago.
There are almost 400 people in the Intermountain Donor Services area on the national waiting list and 25 of those are under 17 years old. - "Yes Utah"
"It's a miracle, and every child should have that opportunity of a second chance at life," says Judy Toone.
The struggles of both families inspired a 5th grade class at Crescent Elementary in Sandy to get Utah Rep. Kurt Oscarson to sponsor a legislative bill to create the fund.
"It's nice to know that there's security out there, and that parents don't have to worry so much if they don't have the money," says Talysa Toone.
Marcia Fullmer says the fund provides hope.
"We're thankful that medicine has provided a way for our children to live," she says. "It's not a great cure, but it's a cure."
Over 15 years, the Kurt Oscarson Children's Transplant Fund has helped 85 Utah families. Each year, more than 7,000 people contribute funds that total around $85,000.
Dr. David Sundwall chairs the committee that must decide how the money is distributed to families.
"Some need thousands of dollars for help with medications or co-payments for a procedure," says Sundwall. "Some need a few hundred dollars for a motel where the parents need to stay during the procedure."
"It gives them a little bit of peace of mind to know that there are other resources available, too," says Judy Toone.
Both of the transplant recipients are healthy 20 years after their life-saving surgeries. They're glad other kids get a second chance today.
All of us can contribute to the fund each year by checking the box on our tax forms.