Eleven-year-old girl meets 'good Samaritan' organ donor

Saturday, September 1, 2001

ST. LOUIS -- With an exchange of gifts and kisses, an 11-year-old girl on Friday met the stranger who donated part of her liver to help save the child's life.

Appearing at a news conference at St. Louis Children's Hospital in their pajamas and "Donate Life" T-shirts, Lindsay Carter and donor Ruth Parker encouraged others to consider organ donation.

"We can't say thank you enough," said Linda Carter, Lindsay's mother. She said she just kept wanting to hug and squeeze Parker, but didn't want to hurt her as she recovered.

Parker, 47, of Independence, underwent surgery Monday to give part of her liver to the St. Louis County girl.

Part of liver donated

About 97 percent of livers come from people who have just died, but Parker is part of a small but growing group of people known as good Samaritan donors. She decided to offer a kidney or a piece of her liver to anyone who needed it.

Unlike other organs, the liver can regenerate after a piece has been removed for transplant.

Doctors said they matched the two for blood group and size. During surgery, they removed the right portion, about 60 percent of Parker's liver, to transplant in the girl.

They said total recovery time is three months, but said the patients' determination could help. Barnes-Jewish Hospital officials said Friday afternoon that Parker will be discharged this morning.

"She's back on her feet after three days. That's almost unheard of," said Dr. Surendra Shenoy, a transplant surgeon, of Parker. "There's something we can all do to help Ruth's cause. We can tell our families, in the event of death, we want to donate our organs," Shenoy said.

"I've gotten the sense that everyone thinks I'm crazy, but that's OK," said Parker, who squeezed Lindsay's hand as the two sat side by side in wheelchairs. "This makes it OK."

Waiting since March

Lindsay, of Eureka, was diagnosed at age 2 with alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, an inherited condition that can lead to liver failure.

Lindsay had been on a transplant waiting list since March. She said she is looking forward to getting back to school and playing sports, especially soccer. When asked what she would say to others considering organ donation, she said, "I would tell them just go for it."

Parker equated the organ donation to giving birth. "Maybe more like a Caesarean section," she said.

Donations of the organs of people who have just died have leveled out in recent years. Last year, organs from about 11,000 such people were donated -- resulting in about 23,000 transplants.

Yet, waiting lists for livers locally and nationally have doubled over the last five years.

About 78,000 people nationwide are waiting for a donor organ, Parker said.

But living donors, like Parker, are still fairly uncommon.

Risks include infection, blood clots, bleeding, intestinal blockage, bile duct leaks, and liver failure.

Advantages of live-donor transplants include shorter wait times, a greater opportunity to stabilize the recipient's condition and the ability to perform the transplant when the donor is healthiest.

Donor nurse

Parker is acutely aware of the need for organ donors. She is a registered nurse who works for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, part of the federal Department of Health and Human Services. Her job involves working with organ procurement organizations.

Lindsay held a teddy bear wearing a surgical mask and another stuffed animal that Parker had given her. The Carter family gave Parker a Precious Moments clock, a basket with books, small gifts and flowers.

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