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Her heart lives on: Recipient meets with donor family, hospital staff

Young woman’s organs saved five lives
By: Sena Christian, Staff Reporter
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Donor facts and stats

18 people die each day in the Untied States waiting for a transplant

More than 117,000 people in the United States are currently waiting for a transplant

The waiting list for organ transplants is growing at the rate of 1,000 per month. A new name is added every 13 minutes.

A total of 28,663 organ transplants were performed in the United States in 2010

In 2010, 7,943 people donated one or more organs upon death. There were another 6,564 living organ donors.

The refusal rate among families of potential donors nationwide is around 50 percent

The success rate for transplantation is now more than 80 percent

One donor can supply as many as eight organs (heart, two lungs, liver, pancreas, two kidneys and intestine).

Source: Sierra Donor Services

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To sign up to be an organ donor, visit www.donatelifecalifornia.org.

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To watch the segment on Gabby Preap and heart donor Cassie Campbell, visit www.oprah.com.

 

On April 18, 2011, Michelle Campbell lost one of her two daughters in an accidental prescription drug overdose.

A few months later, she gained another young woman to love in the form of Gabby Preap, the recipient of her daughter’s heart. On Valentine’s Day, Preap and the donor’s family reunited in the intensive care unit at Kaiser Permanente Roseville Medical Center to thank the hospital staff who cared for 19-year-old Casandra "Cassie" Campbell in the days before her death.

The emotional reunion was marked by several tears as Preap arrived a few minutes late — from her home in Long Beach — to greet the Campbell family, of Orangevale, who took turns embracing the 23-year-old woman.

“I always got the girls a little something on Valentine’s Day,” said Michelle Campbell, as she handed Preap a gift bag.

This was the sixth time the family has seen the donor recipient, including in October 2011 for the filming of a segment of the “Lost and Found” series on the Oprah Winfrey Network.

“It gives me a lot of comfort to know Cassie saved an amazing life and saved the pain for her family of going through the same thing,” Michelle Campbell said, during Thursday’s reunion. “It’s priceless.”

A year prior to her death, Cassie Campbell checked “yes” for organ donation at the Department of Motor Vehicles, and her organs were later used to save five lives, including Preap’s, who in 2008 was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy after a virus attacked her heart.

Preap, then 19 years old, was given two years to live. She suffered chest pains, shortness of breath, loss of appetite and would choke when lying down. After two and a half years of waiting, Preap learned that a heart donor had been found.

A national donor registry didn’t exist until 2006, and now people can sign up through the DMV or online (see sidebar). The donor waiting list keeps growing and now numbers more than 117,000, including 1,300 in the Sacramento area.

The vast majority of people on the waiting list are in need of a kidney. That’s because a patient with kidney failure can go on dialysis, which prolongs life and provides more time for a possible donation.

More than one-third of the 117,000 people waiting for a transplant will die before an organ is found because there aren’t enough donors, said Tracy Bryan, a spokeswoman for Sierra Donor Services, which serves Sacramento and 10 surrounding counties.

Once Cassie Campbell was identified as a donor — she was brain dead — the hospital contacted Sierra Donor Services and the organ recovery agency kicked the process into gear. While complicated to coordinate, the process usually completes within 24 hours.

The presence of a person’s name on the registry gives consent; if not, the agency must get consent from the family. Several factors are considered to determine a match: blood and tissue type, urgency, time spent on waiting list and proximity to recipient. For instance, a heart can only last four to six hours outside the body.

The names of the donor and recipient are anonymous and both sides must indicate they want to meet, which is a rare occurrence. Preap wanted to meet the Campbell family so they would know her loved one lives on through her, she said.

“I take a lot of comfort in Gabby because she’s not my sister but I feel like she’s always going to be there for me,” said Cassie’s younger sister, Brittany Campbell, 19.

Chris Palkowski, physician-in-chief of the Kaiser Permanente Roseville Medical Center, said his staff grieved at the loss of Cassie Campbell, and the reunion gave them a chance to see the other side of her death — the life that has been saved.

“I’m not at all surprised our staff were moved and touched by this experience,” Palkowski said. “That’s why they come to work everyday.”

Registered Nurse Elizabeth Hasbun took care of Cassie Campbell for three evening shifts and went with her into the operating room when doctors removed the patient's heart, which she called an “amazing experience.”

Joann Ferrigno was the admitting nurse when Cassie Campbell arrived at the hospital. She cared for her and was there the day she passed away. She and two other nurses were given time off work to attend the memorial services.

“This has been the most overwhelming day of my career,” Ferrigno said. “And it’s been a long career.”