People

Transplant Recipients and Donor Families Can Ease Each Other’s Burdens


By George G Kovacik | April 10, 2017

Stacy Hadley was out with friends Feb. 1, 2014, when she twisted her ankle. Stacy called her mother, Janet, crying and Janet said she would pick her up. She it was her left foot and that she was okay to drive. Both said “I love you” and hung up the phone.

A little while later, Janet looked at her watch and thought her daughter should already be home. She called her cell phone–no answer. She called again–no answer. On the fifth try, the chaplain at OU Medical Center in Oklahoma City answered Stacy’s phone. He told her that her daughter had been in an accident. Janet rushed to the hospital. Stacy was on life support. She died the next day. She was 25.

“We were best friends. You can’t imagine how devastating it is to lose a child unless you have experienced it,” Hadley said.

Within hours, Stacy and her family had saved the life of someone else’s family member through organ donation. One recipient was Don Cormier, 50, who needed a double lung transplant at Houston Methodist Hospital.

The two families recently met in Dallas, and have continued to have a relationship since then.

“A meeting between a transplant recipient and the family of the donor can help ease the pain for both parties,” said Inna D’Empaire, M.D., a transplant psychiatrist with Houston Methodist Hospital. “For the transplant recipient, it can relieve some of the guilt they are feeling that someone had to die for them to live. For the family, it can be proof that their loved one’s life goes on in another human being.”

“I had a lot of guilt about receiving Stacy’s organs, and once I met her wonderful family and heard stories about her life I began to feel better,” Cormier said. “Janet and I now text, and talk all the time. It’s been a beautiful experience.”

At age 32, Cormier was diagnosed with Alpha-1 antitypsin deficiency, a genetic condition that can damage the lungs and liver. Alpha-1 antitrypsin is made by the liver and protects the lungs. When the cells are the wrong shape, they get stuck in the liver prohibiting them from getting to the lungs. By age 50, he developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that turned into emphysema. In 2012, he developed pneumonia and was told he would need a double lung transplant.

“My doctor told me if I didn’t get the transplant I would live two, maybe three years tops,” Cormier said.

After a couple of months on the transplant waiting list, Cormier received the call on Feb. 2, 2014 that two new lungs were available–Stacy’s lungs.

“I wanted to write my donor family a letter, but I couldn’t find the words to say,” Cormier said. “Then one day my coordinator gave me an envelope with a letter and pictures of Stacy. Her mom had reached out to me first. ”

The meeting in Dallas was important for both families.

“It’s a very emotional journey for both the recipients and the donor families and some recipients feel too guilty to reach out,” D’Empaire said. “Usually, if the meeting goes well, the guilt begins to subside and both sides tend to become very close.”

Photo description: Janet Hadley’s daughter, Stacy, donated her lungs to Don Cormier

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