On both sides of an organ donation list

UCHealth Memorial Hospital joins with Donor Alliance to raise awareness about organ and tissue donation
April 7, 2017
Gail Gallagher, a volunteer with Donor Alliance, is shown visiting.
Gail Gallagher, a volunteer with Donor Alliance, visited UCHealth Memorial Hospital recently to raise awareness about organ and tissue donation.

Gail Gallagher has a unique perspective as a volunteer for Colorado’s Donor Alliance, having seen how organ donation works from both the side of someone waiting and the side of someone giving.

Gallagher’s daughter, Kate, had been diagnosed with a rare condition called Budd-Chiari Syndrome, caused by narrowing or occlusion of the veins in the liver. Budd-Chiari affects one of 1 million people. Like others with Budd-Chiari, she placed her name on a list to receive a liver transplant.

In 2012, at age 26, however, Kate suffered a bleed in her brain and never recovered. In the Intensive Care Unit at Memorial Hospital Central, Gallagher made the harrowing decision to donate her daughter’s organs. She said that her daughter spent about 30 hours on a ventilator in the ICU.

“It was very peaceful; a nurse in the ICU who works nights – Sandra – she was wonderful. We took her off of the vent, and we felt very supported by Donor Alliance,’’ Gallagher said.

Sundee Gilbert, a donation consultant with Donor Alliance, is shown talking to a gentleman about the importance of organ and tissue donation.
Sundee Gilbert, a donation consultant with Donor Alliance, talks to a gentleman about the importance of organ and tissue donation.

Gallagher returned to Memorial on a recent Monday morning, this time to spend a few hours volunteering at a booth that had been set up to raise awareness at the hospital and in the community about the benefits of organ donation. April is “Donate Life Month,’’ and the Donor Alliance Committee at Memorial is involved in a friendly competition with hospitals across Colorado and Wyoming to raise awareness.

“It’s wonderful to stand in the lobby of a very busy hospital and spread awareness for staff and visitors who are coming in and out of the hospital about organ and tissue donation,’’ said Sundee Gilbert, a donation consultant for Donor Alliance.

Donor Alliance is the federally-designated non-profit organ procurement and tissue bank serving Colorado and most of Wyoming.

In those two states alone, 2,537 people are currently waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant. Every day in the United States, 22 people die while waiting for a lifesaving transplant.

In the lobby of Memorial on Monday, Gallagher told how her daughter’s heart is now beating inside a girl who suffered a heart attack at the age of 12. The girl is doing well, Gallagher said, and is preparing to graduate from high school.

Gallagher’s daughter also donated two kidneys. A man living in a small town on the Western Slope of Colorado is the beneficiary of one of the kidneys. Before the transplant, he traveled two hours each way to his dialysis appointment three times a week. The second kidney was donated to a person who lives out of state, Gallagher said.

Anyone who wants to donate their organs can become an organ donor while getting a driver’s license or registering with Donor Alliance.

Deb Stover, RN, BSN, CEN, is an emergency room nurse and part of Memorial’s Donor Awareness Committee.

“As a nurse in the emergency room, we are seeing such sick patients – a high-acuity population. Organ donation is a lasting gift to someone else, and it gives them a chance at a long life,’’ Stover said.

“By raising awareness here, we are reminding people to discuss organ donation with your family and to make sure that everyone knows your desire,’’ Stover said.

Gallagher began volunteering with Donor Alliance about six months before her daughter, who worked at the YMCA and was engaged to be married, died. She wanted to meet people who were involved in the non-profit organization.

“We were focused on getting a liver transplant for her. Never in a million years did we think that it would be the other way around,’’ Gallagher said.




About the author

Erin Emery is editor of UCHealth Today, a hub for medical news, inspiring patient stories and tips for healthy living. Erin spent years as a reporter for The Denver Post, Colorado Springs Gazette and Colorado Springs Sun. She was part of a team of Denver Post reporters who won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting.

Erin joined UCHealth in 2008, and she is awed by the strength of patients and their stories.