For more information or to become a donor, visit the Ohio Donor Registry or Lifeline of Ohio.
Learn about Ohio State's Comprehensive Transplant Center.
Diagnosed with a genetic heart condition at a young age, Adam Burkhart needed a heart transplant by the time he was 17. Thanks to a donor, he received his new heart just days before his 18th birthday.
Watch the stories of more families involved in organ transplantation.
Adam Burkhart's transplant story begins before his birth. "In 1968, my aunt died from the same heart disease I was born with 14 years later — familial dilated non-obstructive cardiomyopathy," explains Burkhart. "When the doctors discovered I had the same disease, they said I wouldn't need a heart transplant until my 30s."
However, by the time he was 17, Burkhart's doctors determined that he needed a transplant. "In early 2000, I was admitted to Ohio State's Medical Center, where I stayed for seven months waiting for a new heart," recalls Burkhart. "On September 14, a heart became available. So I got a new heart, turned 18 just six days later and went home the day after that."
Successful transplantation involves many steps and a team of experts. Erin Bumgardner, RN, heart transplant coordinator at Ohio State's Comprehensive Transplant Center (CTC), explains. "First, we determine if a candidate can withstand the transplant surgery and post-transplant medications, which include anti-rejection drugs, and about 20 more medications to counteract the side effects of those drugs.
"We also complete thorough cancer screenings, because immunosuppressive drugs increase risks for certain types of cancers," adds Bumgardner. The CTC follows transplant patients for life.
The History and the Research
Out of the more than 10,000 hospitals in the country, Ohio State has one of only 254 transplant programs. It started in 1967 with a kidney transplant. "OSU has the only adult transplant program in central Ohio, which not everyone realizes," notes Todd Pesavento, MD, medical director of Kidney and Pancreas Transplantation. "We are also one of the largest kidney and pancreas transplant centers in the country."
Being part of an academic medical center also means that CTC patients with difficult cases can enroll in clinical research trials that private transplant programs may not be able to offer. A perfect example is the transplantation of insulin-regulating cells — called the Islets of Langerhans — from a donor pancreas to a patient with type 1 diabetes. Ohio State is one of the first in the country performing this procedure.
"The Islet transplant procedure is the ultimate example of bench-to-bedside research," says Mitchell Henry, MD, division director and transplant surgeon. "Since researchers are part of our clinical teams, we increase the speed at which research directly benefits patients."
The Team Effort
"Transplantation is clearly a 'team effort' because successful transplantation requires that physicians, surgeons, nurses, technicians and administrators come together to make the CTC function," says Robert Higgins, MD, director of the CTC and a leading expert in cardiothoracic surgery and heart transplantation.
"However, our newest charge at the CTC is to take this program from a very successful program to an elite, top-10 program," Dr. Higgins explains. "We're hoping to get closer to being a number-one team by pulling all the pieces together in a patient-focused process."
The Happily Ever After
Burkhart recently celebrated his 10-year transplant anniversary, and was married to Kali in October. "I feel good," says Burkhart. "My rejection factor is zero and there are no blocked arteries. I'm extremely lucky."
He also just recently met his donor's family. "The older I got, the more I realized how much they gave," he says. "It was difficult for us to meet, but we are all glad we did."
Fishing for the Truth
Spotlight on Debunking Transplant Myths
"Nationally, more than 109,000 people are waiting for lifesaving transplants, with about 3,500 in Ohio," says Marilyn Pongonis, with Lifeline of Ohio (LOOP), an organ procurement organization in central Ohio. LOOP partners with OSU Medical Center to promote and coordinate organ and tissue donation.
"Organ donation still continues to be a huge issue and a huge opportunity to save more patients," says Dr. Henry. "We want people to understand that something good can come from the tragedy of losing a loved one."
Dr. Pesavento agrees, adding, "Organ donation is just essential. The generosity of these people is amazing, because it has a huge impact on other people's lives." Myths about organ donation can deter potential donors, but here are the facts, according to Laura Murdock, administrative director of the CTC:
Myth: The quality of medical treatments and the efforts to save my life are lessened if emergency or medical personnel know I am willing to be a donor.
Fact: A transplant team does not become involved until independent physicians caring for the patient have determined that all possible efforts to save the patient's life have failed.
Myth: My religion forbids it.
Fact: All major world religions support organ donation.
Myth: My family could not have an open casket funeral.
Fact: Organ donation does not affect open casket funerals.
More answers to commonly asked questions about organ donation.
She Gave at the Office
Living kidney donor inspires others
These days, people needing a kidney transplant have alternatives to waiting for a kidney from a deceased donor. It's possible for healthy people to donate one of their kidneys to someone in need. Often the donor is a relative, but sometimes salvation comes in the form of a friend or stranger.
In 2005, when Ginger Cunningham discovered that her co-worker, Mary, needed a kidney, Cunningham had a self-described "out-of-body" reaction. "I heard myself say 'Give me the name and number of the transplant center,'" recalls Cunningham. "And then I thought, 'Did I just say that?'"
Luckily for Mary, Cunningham was a perfect match. When the transplant was complete, Cunningham refused to leave the operating room until her friend was out of surgery. "The peace that was over her was phenomenal," explains Cunningham. "Her skin color had changed – I no longer saw that yellow cast to her skin. Just having that kidney was already healing her body." Thanks to minimally invasive laparoscopic techniques used at Ohio State to remove kidneys from live donors, Cunningham was out of the hospital in a few days and back to work in a few weeks.
Recently, Cunningham had the opportunity to share her experience with a group of clergy members at Ohio State. "I impressed upon them the spiritual side of being a donor," recalls Cunningham, "because God has shown me one of my purposes in life is to tell my story to all those who are thinking about being a registered donor."
In fact, after Cunningham was featured on a TV documentary last May, she found out that a gentleman who saw the program signed up to become a living donor, and indeed recently donated a kidney. "My goal is now to get all my immediate family registered," she declares. "People don't realize how God moves until you've experienced something like I've been through."
Leading the Way
Spotlight on OSU Medical Center's Solid Organ Transplant Program
Robert Higgins, MD, was named recently to lead OSU Medical Center's solid organ transplant program. The highly respected surgeon is a former president of the United Network for Organ Sharing, the private, non-profit organization that manages the U.S. organ transplant system.
The recruitment of Dr. Higgins to Ohio State is significant, according to Steven G. Gabbe, MD, CEO of OSU Medical Center. "We're very excited that Bob joined us," says Dr. Gabbe. "With his leadership, there will be many milestones ahead to celebrate."
"At Ohio State, I see extraordinary potential for the cardiovascular and transplant programs. I look forward to working closely with the faculty, staff and leaders here to enhance the outstanding clinical and research teams," says Dr. Higgins.