Merced transplant recipient sees dire need for organ donors

Transplant recipient hopes bill will help educate Californians

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comOctober 27, 2012 

Teri Rhodes got the gift of life and now hopes to spread the word about the importance of organ donations in California -- an effort that's in line with a new piece of state legislation.

Last year, the 48-year-old Merced resident was given three months to live after she was diagnosed with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a kind of cirrhosis.

Rhodes needed a liver transplant to survive, but the waiting list in California was three to five years because of the shortage of donors.

Her Stanford doctors recommended she try the Mayo Clinic in Arizona and Florida. Last October, Rhodes and her husband, Daniel, packed their bags and moved to Arizona.

The wait time there was from six to eight months, so they decided to pack their bags one more time and give Florida a try.

In February, Teri Rhodes was put on the waiting list and in May she had the liver transplant.

"It's one of those things," Teri said before her voice started to break and tears rolled down her cheeks. "My donor family. How do you say thank you? I don't know the words. If there's anything I can do, I would like to do the same thing they did for me."

Now back in Merced and recovering, Rhodes wants to help create more awareness about the need for organ donors and about "the importance of talking about passing life on."

From her experience of having to move to two different states to get a transplant, Rhodes realized that there's a lack of education about organ donation in California.

The opposition is true in Arizona and in Florida, she said. "They are always educating," she said. "It's about organ awareness."

She wants to help increase awareness in California. Since she's returned home, she's been busy spreading the word and giving out free materials on organ donation.

"I'm trying everything I can because I know that if I can reach out to at least one person, one person can save up to eight lives," she said. "If I just touch one person, that's all I want."

Families need to talk about it too, she said, because ultimately the decision comes down to donor's family. "We don't think about things like that until it strikes you," she said.

Daniel Rhodes is supporting his wife's effort. He knows firsthand the kind of difference that a donor can make, especially after months of thinking his wife wouldn't make it.

"It's like having a new life," he said.

Education is key

He said there's a lot of people who won't become an organ donor for various reason, such as their religion. "A lot of education is needed. Education is key," he said. "There are a lot of people who just don't believe in doing it."

Last month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1967 to try to educate students about organ donation and increase the number of people who become donors when applying for driver's licenses, according to the office of Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, who authored the bill.

John Vigna, press secretary for Perez, said the bill will ensure that students in California high schools get information about organ donations during their health and science classes. He said it's an issue that a lot of teenagers don't think about.

It will encourage other citizens to become donors, Vigna said.

As of August, there were 20,765 Californians waiting for a donor organ to become available, he said. "It's an issue where we are having people die who don't need to," he said.

Teri said not all patients in California are able to afford to move across the country to be able to get the organ transplant they need in order to live.

"A lot of Californians are dying waiting for organs they are never going to receive," she said. "I think this bill is a good start."

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482, or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.


At a glance

For more on AB 1967, visit http://

tinyurl.com/943scrq

People waiting for an organ transplant

California: 20,765

Nationwide: 114,844

To register with Donate Life California, visit www.

donatelifecalifornia.org

To register with Donate Life America, visit http://donatelife.net

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