Penn Medicine News Blog: Archives

October 21, 2013 // By Sally Sapega // Comments

Save Lives Through Organ Donation

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Laura kelchner, bob and sue 002Only 45 percent of Americans are registered organ donors.  As a result, nearly 120,000 people in this country remain on a waiting list for a life-saving transplant. About 18 die each day due to a lack of available organs.

In an effort to increase donor registration, Penn Medicine partnered with HAP (The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania) to help educate its employees about the importance of organ, eye, and tissue donation.  It was part of a national campaign sponsored by the US Department of Health and Human Services. After an all-out effort that spread throughout its health system, Penn Medicine won recognition for having completed the widest variety of activities -- including information tables, special ‘lunch and learns,’ giveaways -– all to help raise awareness.

It’s no surprise that Penn Medicine was so relentless in its campaign. With the highest volume of any transplant center in the region -- and excellent outcomes -- the Penn Transplant Institute knows how many lives can be saved with a transplant. Earlier this year, Penn’s heart transplant program passed the 1000 mark. That’s more than all transplant centers in the region … combined. And its kidney transplant program recently reached a milestone as well:  5,000 performed since the first kidney transplant at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania took place in 1966. Joseph Mehl donated a kidney to his brother Howard. (The kidney can be transplanted from either a deceased or a living donor.) Today Howard is the oldest living kidney transplant recipient in Pennsylvania; 9th oldest in the world!

More recently, in 2008, Laura Kelchner, a surgical tech at Pennsylvania Hospital, literally saved her dad’s life when she gave him one of her kidneys. Since that time, Bob Kelchner has been able to walk Laura down the aisle, travel around the country with his wife, and spend countless hours with his nine grandchildren. 

Had Laura not been a match for her dad, she still could have helped him, as part of a paired kidney exchange. In this case, Laura’s kidney would have been given to a compatible recipient while her father received a kidney from someone who better matched his blood type. Earlier this year, HUP and the National Kidney Registry -– in partnership with 18 transplant centers across the country -– successfully completed the second largest kidney exchange in history and the largest to be concluded in under 40 days! Dubbed Chain 221, the swap involved 56 participants (28 donors and 28 recipients).  

Advances in the field have expanded the transplant list. Beyond hearts, kidneys, lungs, the pancreas, and livers, transplanted organs and tissue can now include corneas, hands, intestines, skin, bone, tendons, and islet cells. One organ donor can save as many as eight lives and improve the lives of many more!

Now’s the time to start saving lives.

Photo caption: Since Laura Kelchner donated a kidney to her dad, Bob, he has been enjoying life to the fullest, traveling with his wife, Sue, and playing with his 9 grandchildren!

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