Medical director urges more Utahns to become donors
One person can potentially save eight lives
May 16, 2017
Anita Lewis says she is overcome with gratitude for the donors whose organs saved her life, but she reserves an equal measure of appreciation for the medical team who cared for her over the last six months. She credits her recovery from a nearly fatal liver disease to an "amazing" network of doctors and nurses — from the family physician in Coalville who listened attentively to her mysterious symptoms, to the specialist who identified her disease and, ultimately, to the surgeons and physicians from one of the top liver transplant programs in the country – right here in Utah.
"I felt I had the best team," she said last week after returning to work at the Summit County Courthouse in Coalville.
Her son, Ashley Lewis, echoes that sentiment, singling out one doctor in particular, Dr. Richard Gilroy, Medical Director of the Liver Transplantation team at Intermountain Medical Center. "You can't say enough about him. It is above and beyond the realm of understanding," he said.
As a paramedic with the Park City Fire District, Ashley said his mom's experience has reinforced his faith in the medical profession and changed his personal stand on becoming an organ donor.
"I didn't want to be an organ donor for the longest time. But now I think it is the most unselfish thing a person can do," he said.
That is music to Gilroy's ears.
Gilroy, who happens to be a Summit County resident, too, said his greatest frustration is the disparity between the number of people waiting for organs and the number of donors.
According to Gilroy, by consenting to be an organ donor, one person can potentially save eight lives. Thanks to advances in medicine, viable organs include the heart, kidneys, liver, lungs and pancreas. In fact, a living person can now donate a portion of their liver to another patient where it will regenerate to the size needed, he added.
"The challenge is ensuring that conversation happens," he said during a recent conversation near his home in Park City.
According to Gilroy, "118,000 people are currently waiting for an organ transplant and the liver transplant list that Anita was on will have about 12,500 people added to it this year. But we'll only be able to do 7,500 transplants. That means that 5,000 patients will get removed without the opportunity to be transplanted because they get too sick or they die."
Gilroy hopes to reduce that number by half though raising awareness of the importance of becoming an organ donor.
"On the religious side, I say to people, 'We wouldn't be given this ability, to donate our organs, if we weren't meant to use it.' Unfortunately many more are happy to be recipients than donors," he lamented.
"Utah has great opportunities to increase its transplant rates. We are only at 55 percent of our potential. We need everyone to consider being a donor," he said.
According to Gilroy, transplant patients, like Anita, can make remarkable recoveries.
"The goal is to restore them to their normal lives," he said, citing Olympic bronze-medal snowboarder Chris Klug as a prime example. Klug earned his medal in 2002, two years after receiving a liver transplant.
Please see “Liver transplant takes Anita Lewis on a harrowing journey” for further reading.