Nearly a year ago, 15-year-old Randy Valdez hovered near death at St. Paul University Hospital in Dallas. He was one of the more than 77,000 on U.S. waiting lists for organ transplants. "Randy was on a ventilator and his doctors had already told us to call a priest to give him his last rites," recalls his mother, Nancy. "Our family had come from California to say goodbye." Within crucial days, Randy, who'd battled cystic fibrosis since he was a baby, received the news that he and his family had been praying for: Donated lungs had become available and he was a perfect match.
Randy got his new lungs on November 11, 2000, and since then has recovered about as well as his family and doctors could hope. He's regained weight, lost his incessant cough, and is back in public school after several years of home schooling.
The Valdezes are just one of an increasing number of families to have experienced this miracle of modern science. While there are still too few organ donors (see sidebar on page 47), and more than 5,500 people die annually while on waiting lists, new technologies and techniques hold hope for those still waiting for what's often called the gift of life. Here's a look at several of them.
Lungs, livers, and kidneys can all be donated by the living. And recipients can live full, productive lives with a lobe, or portion, of the donor's lung or liver, or with just one kidney.
While anonymous living donations are not all that rare, most of the time it's a family member or close friend who volunteers the organ. In a case that made headlines a few years ago, San Antonio Spurs basketball player Sean Elliott received a kidney from his brother Noel. Sean went on to resume his NBA career and both brothers remain healthy and well.