Each year, Valentine's Day is celebrated with candy, roses and jewelry. But for people who are waiting for an organ transplant to survive, Valentine's Day is not as important as National Donor Day, which also is celebrated every year on Feb. 14.
Throughout the United States, there is a constant and immediate need for organ donors. Twenty people die each day waiting for an organ transplant, according to the American Transplant Foundation, but one organ donor can save up to eight lives and heal 75 other people in need.
Greg Satterfield, who lives north of Marseilles and grew up in Ottawa, is a liver recipient. He considers himself one of the lucky ones. On Dec. 31, 2017, he got the call he was waiting for.
“New Year's Eve, I received a call there was a liver donor match,” Satterfield said. “By New Year's Day, I received my liver. How's that for starting the new year right?"
It began when Satterfield got sick. He went to see a gastroenterologist, Dr. Geetha Dodda, at OSF HealthCare and found out he had stage 2 liver disease.
The liver is the largest internal organ in the human body. Its function is to purify blood, store vitamins and aid digestion. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, liver disease is the 12th leading cause of death in the United States. Some symptoms include poor appetite, fatigue and feeling ill.
“I was very surprised I had a liver disease,” Satterfield said. “I drank alcohol, but always in moderation, not more than normal. But after I was hurt at work, takng naproxen on top of that brought on the liver disease. But still, it was hard for me to believe I had stage 2 liver disease.”
Dodda recommended Satterfield see Dr. Scott Cotler at Loyola Medical Center in Maywood.
“Soon I was visiting the hospital once a week to have 7 to 9 liters of fluid taken out of my body,” Satterfield said. “I was blowing up with fluid and I was losing protein when the fluid was removed. Eventually I suffered a huge weight loss.”
Almost a year went by, and there were rules Satterfield had to follow to be put on a donor waiting list.
“One of the requirements I had to follow was taking 75 hours of classes at a center in La Salle,” he said. "When I first got there, the teacher told me I didn't have to take the class because I wasn't an alcoholic. Well, my doctor didn't agree and I was back in class. And actually, I learned quite a bit, but it's a lot of work to be put on that waiting list. It's not like you can go to Walmart and pick up a liver,” he said with a laugh.
The organ donation process is a slow one. It takes months to complete all of the medical testing, financial and emotional counseling that are required to be approved for a transplant. Once a patient has a doctor's referral, there's an initial medical appointment for a physical exam, blood draws and imaging testing. Blood work is also done to help determine if a potential donor is a good match.
“It all worked out,” Satterfield said. “After the transplant, I had to take rejection drug medicine. I was taking handfuls of medicine, 1 milligram in the morning and evening. I got sick a couple of times and it turns out I was taking too much medicine, but once the medication was adjusted, everything just worked out. I'm very lucky that I haven't rejected the liver.”
“It's like gambling,” Satterfield continued. “You take a chance and hope you were matched with a correct donor. The key is that your donor be close to your age, and I was 58."
Satterfield said he never met the family members of his donor, but he did try to send them a letter. However, they never received the message because they moved.
"Gift of Hope told me I should write another letter, and I'm going to do that,” Satterfield said.
He believes he's been given a second chance for a healthy life.
“Thanks to an organ donor, I've got my health and energy. I can be an active father and grandfather. There's so much to be thankful for. It's still amazing to me, and I believe I got a second chance at life. All I can really say is that everyone should be a donor. It's that important.”
About organ donations
To register as an organ donor on the Illinois Organ/Tissue Donation Registry, visit ilsos.gov/organdonorregister.
“While registering places a person on the national list of donors, we recommend that everyone have the conversation with their families," said Therese Michels, marketing and communications manager for Gift of Hope, a not-for-profit organization that provides organ and tissue donation services with donor family services. "That way, when a family is dealing with a tragic death, they will be sure to know their loved one's wishes.”
There are 58 federally funded designated organ procurement organizations in the United States. Gift of Hope services most of Illinois and Northwest Indiana.
“When a hospital has a patient facing imminent death, they are required to contact Gift of Hope,” Michels said. “One of our representatives goes to the hospital and approaches the family to have the conversation about donation. If the patient is a registered donor, the family is informed of their loved one's legally binding decision. If they are not registered, the family is asked to make the decision on his or her behalf.”
Michels said there are about 4,000 people in Illinois waiting for an organ transplant, including heart, liver, kidney, lung, pancreas and small bowel. Tissue donations also are needed for patients who need to replace corneas, skin and heart valves.
“It is important to mention that donations truly help donor families. Donations rewrite the ending of a very tragic story. Most donor families think of their loved ones as heroes and rejoice in the fact that their loved ones saved or enhanced the lives of others.”