The race for a lifetime

Thursday, January 13, 2005

You wouldn't know it to look at him, but Jim Hormann's life needs saving. True, on this day he is resting easy in his favorite chair with his youngest son napping in the next room, but Hormann may as well be flailing in the ocean, trapped in a burning building or plummeting toward earth with a defective parachute.

The 33-year-old Jackson resident is living with a rare kidney disease, and if he doesn't get a new kidney, doctors say he'll be dead in five years.

"I've got three kids," Hormann said. "Without a kidney, I'm not going to see them finish school."

Hormann is among 87,000 Americans waiting for organ transplants. Not everyone gets one. A new name is added to the transplant waiting list every 16 seconds. In most cases, the wait will be long -- anywhere from three months for a pancreas to three years for a kidney, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.

The average wait is 528 days, sometimes too long for some people to survive. Seventeen people die every day waiting.

That's why Hormann wants to encourage people to consider organ donation.

"People need to let their kin and relatives know if that is your intention, sign your driver's license or fill out the donor card," he said. "You can't take your kidneys with you."

The 50th anniversary of the first successful human organ transplant -- a kidney -- was last year. In Cape Girardeau, organ transplants have taken place for the past 20 years, when the city's first neurosurgeon came to town. A neurosurgeon is required to declare someone brain dead before organs can be taken for transplant.

Organ transplants have come a long way in the last 50 years, said Breita Church, donation specialist with Mid-America Transplant Services in Cape Girardeau. While medical advancements means more people can be saved, it also means more organs are required.

Unfortunately, she said, the number of donors has stagnated in recent years. She doesn't know why.

Church said nationwide, 60,191 people like Hormann are awaiting kidneys. There are 17,506 people waiting for livers; 1,648 people waiting for a pancreas; 3,356 who need a heart; 3,931 who need a lung and 196 who need an intestine.

Local statistics for her coverage area -- which includes half of Missouri, Southern Illinois and portions of Arkansas -- show 857 people needing a kidney, 214 people needing a liver, seven people needing a pancreas, 53 needing a heart, 520 needing a lung and two needing an intestine.

She said she knows that there are at least 24 people in Cape Girardeau waiting for a liver or kidney and five children who need a heart transplant.

Part of the problem, she said, is that only about 1 percent of people have usable organs after they die. People have to be declared brain dead before their organs can be used. Then, other factors often rule them out, such as if the person had high blood pressure or a communicable disease.

Living donors must be physically fit and in general good health, free from cancer, kidney, lung or heart disease to become a living donor. Candidates are generally between 21 and 55 years old.

After this winnowing process, the Cape Girardeau area only had 14 potential organ donors last year. Ten had organs donated.

Asking for organs

Church continues to educate the public about organ donation. She also has the job of approaching families who have just lost a loved one to see if they would consider donating the organs.

It's not an easy job.

"It's bittersweet," she said. "It's very overwhelming for families. But it's important that they know the options."

Educating people leads to success stories, including Ruth Boxdorfer of Fruitland, who had a liver transplant in 1989. She received a liver from a 16-year-old boy who died in New Mexico.

"It saved my life," she said. "I wouldn't be here today if it hadn't been for that. I say a prayer every day in thanks that I had that opportunity and that I'm still here."

Breita Church wishes she had more stories like Boxdorfer's and fewer like Hormann's.

"I don't know if it's going to get better, I don't have a crystal ball," she said. "I just know the more we talk about it, the better it is."

Meanwhile, Hormann continues waiting.

"I really don't want this for me," he said. "I want it for my kids. What would they do without me?"

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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