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U.S. reaches milestone of 100 million organ donors

By Wendy Leonard | Posted - Oct. 14, 2011 at 8:20 p.m.


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SALT LAKE CITY — Damon Draheim died 17 times before he received a new heart and words can't even describe how much it means to him to be alive.

"I've seen seven grand kids born, I watched my son … play college football for four years. I get to go visit my family at Christmas. I get to spend time with my wife. I'm back working again … where I couldn't, at one time, even climb stairs or even do anything," he said.

Draheim, 45, suffered from cardiomyopathy and wouldn't be alive without an organ donor, who graciously gave up a working heart upon death three-and-a-half years ago.


The "giving nature of Utahns" puts the state at sixth-highest in the nation for registered donors, Intermountain Donor Services Director Tracy Schmidt said, as 67 percent of the drivers in Utah are registered organ, eye and tissue donors.

"A second chance is something; you can't even put into words how special it is," he said.

On Friday, the United States reached a major milestone — 100 million people have signed up to be organ, eye and tissue donors. It's a feat that could end up saving hundreds of millions more lives.

And that is exactly what Debbie Bernhisel was thinking when her 24-year-old son died unexpectedly last year.

He had been studying biology and had talked about donating his body to science, but never made it clear what he actually wished to do. Bernhisel and others later determined that the young man's body was equipped with enough that he could help save more lives immediately if he were to become an organ donor.

"It wasn't possible to do both," she said, adding that it is always gratifying to meet individuals who have received organs from other donors.

"It's great to see they're going on with such a wonderful life," Bernhisel said.

While she'd give anything to have her son back, she's proud of what he was able to do with the working parts of his body — two kidneys and a liver.

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"It was a very hard day but also a very good day," she said.

The "giving nature of Utahns" puts the state at sixth-highest in the nation for registered donors, Intermountain Donor Services Director Tracy Schmidt said, as 67 percent of the drivers in Utah are registered organ, eye and tissue donors.

Still, more than 570 individuals are waiting for life-saving transplants.

The list continues to grow and only about one in 80 deaths qualifies for the potential of organ donation. If organs cannot be donated, corneas and other tissues can be useful. For more information, or to register as an organ, eye or tissue donor, visit www.yesutah.org.

"When you deliver news to a family their child has chronic kidney disease and that their kidneys have failed or are failing, it is quite traumatic," said Dr. Raul Nelson, a pediatric nephrologist at the University Hospital. He said organ donation has a tremendous impact on their lives.

"Kidney transplant offers them the hope of moving on with their lives, and means a much better quality of life in the long-term," Nelson said. He's witnessed many successful surgeries over the years and can't think of anything more beneficial to a sick or ailing patient.

Email:wleonard@ksl.com

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Wendy Leonard

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