Surrounded by hundreds of organ transplant recipients, donors and their families at the annual OHSU Transplant Picnic this past weekend, Liz Campbell experienced a surge of energy and optimism.
“It feels like the high I had shortly after the transplant,” said a clearly joyous Campbell, who received a new kidney at OHSU on Feb. 13. Her kidneys failed as a result of high blood pressure, and she had to endure frequent dialysis treatments before the transplant.
With a new kidney to filter out waste and excess water from her body, Campbell has shifted from surviving to living. She recently took in the Oregon Coast’s beauty and started dating someone new. And, above all, she’s happy.
While waiting in line for the picnic’s taco lunch, Campbell beamed at the woman standing next to her: Emily Lighthipe. A physical therapist at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, Lighthipe offered one of her two perfectly functioning kidneys after reading a newspaper story that Campbell, owner of Kids at Heart Toys on Portland’s Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard, needed one. The two women didn’t know each other before last fall, but have quickly become friends.
They were among many people at the picnic celebrating life. The event offered organ recipients the unusual opportunity to swap transplant stories. They also caught up with hospital staff who helped them through the toughest times of their lives. And, with sincere thanks, they embraced living donors and the families of deceased donors. In between group pictures, the greeting “How’s life?” took on new meaning.
Since 1959, OHSU has transplanted more than 6,900 organs and offered that many patients a second chance. OHSU provides transplants of kidneys, livers, hearts and pancreases to adults and OHSU Doernbecher provides kidneys to children. While OHSU has Oregon’s oldest and largest transplant program, two other Portland-area hospitals, Legacy Medical Center and Portland VA Medical Center, also provide transplants.
“The circumstances that often lead to organ donation can be incredibly tragic, ranging from a car accident to a stroke,” said Marguerite Brown, M.S.N., director of OHSU’s transplant program. “But, when family members decide to donate the organs and tissues of their deceased loved one, they can prevent a similarly tragic outcome for another family. That’s why it’s vital to share your organ donation wishes with your family.”
Campbell was fortunate her survival didn’t rely on another’s tragedy. Though she was on the national kidney wait list for two years, she also took a more proactive approach by joining Donate Life Northwest’s Erase the Wait mentorship program. The program taught her to advocate for herself, educate others about living donation and tell her story through social media posts, local news publications, personal conversations and more.
Asking for help was tough, but Campbell did it anyways. That’s why she brought up her kidney search during an October 2017 interview with her neighborhood newspaper, The Southeast Examiner, about her store’s 30th anniversary.
Lighthipe had been thinking about organ donation ever since her husband’s uncle was saved by a kidney donated by a cousin in 2000. But she decided it was time to act after reading The Southeast Examiner story and then meeting Campbell in person and realizing Campbell couldn’t live the life she wanted while on dialysis. A battery of tests revealed Lighthipe not only had the correct blood type, but also the right antibody type, to help Campbell.
Campbell marvels at how Lighthipe never second-guessed her decision to donate.
“It was the right thing to do,” Lighthipe explained. “Donating an organ is very feasible. One doesn’t have to be a superhero to be a donor. There’s no better feeling than helping someone else live their life to its fullest.”
To register as an organ donor, go to https://www.donatelifenw.org/register-now.
Organ Transplants at OHSU
Between 1959 and June 30, 2018, OHSU had transplanted the following:
- 4,951 kidneys
- 1,049 livers
- 713 hearts
- 198 pancreases
- 24 lungs
- Total: 6,935 organs