Giving the greatest gift of all — life

by Symptom Advice on January 1, 2012

DRACUT — Mark Miller will be spending this Christmas being thankful to a stranger who gave him one of life’s greatest gifts — life itself.

Miller, 43, received a liver transplant in February. all he knows about the person whose liver saved his life is that he was a 38-year-old man who died of a brain aneurysm at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston. But Miller said he thinks about him every day.

“It’s really the ultimate gift you can give,” said Miller, sitting in the kitchen of his Dracut home, with presents arranged under a beautifully decorated Christmas tree in the next room. “It’s Christmastime. what better gift could I have gotten this year?”

Last Christmas, Miller’s health suddenly turned for the worse. He had just been diagnosed in November with liver disease after a quick onset of symptoms. the day after Christmas, he was admitted to the hospital, not knowing what was ahead of him.

After a series of tests, it was determined Miller was a candidate for a liver transplant.

He said his brothers, friends and other members of his family said they were willing to be a live donor, but because of the severity of Miller’s condition, live donation wasn’t an option.

Liver transplant candidates are given a score up to 40 based on three laboratory values that determine where they are listed on the recipient list. a score of 40 means there is about a 90 to 95 percent chance that the patient will die in the next three months, according to Dr. Elizabeth Pomfret, chairwoman of the Department of Transplantation at Lahey Clinic in Burlington.

Miller said his score was 40.

He waited three weeks for a match.

Miller said he would love to meet his donor’s family, but understands that it may be difficult for them to meet him.

“I just want to express my gratitude,” he said. “I think of them often.”

The new England Donor Bank ensures that privacy is kept between the donor family and recipients.

Laura Dempsey, a spokeswoman for the donor bank, said sometimes a recipient will meet their donor’s family, but it’s not common.

“The recipient is so thankful and so happy that they’ve had this second chance at life, sometimes they are eager to thank the donor family,” she said. “But you have to keep in mind the donor family is grieving.”

Giving life-saving gifts

A Westford family, whose 14-year-old daughter’s organs were donated after she died in a car accident, will be honoring their daughter on Jan. 2 in Pasedena, Calif., with other organ donors’ families from around the world.

Donate Life sponsors a float at the Rose Bowl Parade. this year, Katie Enos’ image will be part of the float, along with 71 donors who will be honored from all over the U.S., Canada, Japan and Taiwan.

The image was decorated with earthen materials in a ceremony at Westford Academy earlier this month that included Katie’s family and friends.

Katie was killed in June 2010 when she was hit by a car while crossing Carlisle Street in Westford after leaving a soccer camp.

Six months earlier, after watching a television show about organ donation, Katie had told her parents that she wanted her organs to be donated if she died.

That decision has since not only affected the six people who received Katie’s organs, including a 17-year-old boy who has cystic fibrosis and a woman in her 50s, but Edward Enos said his daughter’s decision has impacted her friends.

He said he’s sure some of Katie’s friends have told their parents that they want to be organ donors, a conversation that many of them probably wouldn’t have had.

“It’s really about awareness, that you can impact a lot of lives when you donate your organs,” Enos said.

Even as a young teenager, Katie knew how important it is to become an organ donor.

“This is something that Katie cared about a lot that when you’re gone there is something more that you can give,” Enos said.

According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, the private, nonprofit organization that manages organ transplants across the country, there are more than 112,000 people in the country awaiting transplants.

On average, 18 people in the U.S. die each day while awaiting a life-saving transplant, according to the network.

In new England, 4,500 people are waiting for an organ transplant, according to the new England Organ Bank.

Last year in new England, there were 817 transplants from 273 donors, according to the new England Organ Bank.

Thirty-six percent of registered drivers in Massachusetts are registered organ donors, according to organ bank.

Pomfret said education and awareness about organ donation is required so that people have conversations with their loved ones and make their wishes known.

Miller said he doesn’t know if his donor was a registered organ donor or his family made that decision for him, but he said he’ll be forever grateful for the gift he received.

“I honestly feel like the luckiest person in the world,” he said.

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