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<I>Organ transplants</I><BR>Residents waiting, those who've been through it form group for support, advice and friendships<BR>

When they saw another car with the same sticker one day in the parking lot of Walgreen's, Corsino said he had to ask the driver if he was "a transplant."

"'No,'" the man responded. "'I'm waiting for a heart.'"

The man, Paul Price, his wife, Lynne, and the Cor-sinos became friends and wanted to share their stories and experiences with others, which is the reason they started the support group.

The group, which now has about 25 members, meets the second Tuesday of every month at the Prescott Brewing Company at 6 p.m. for informal conversation, advice giving and the building of friendships.

Corsino said anyone is welcome to attend the meetings, whether they have gone through a transplant surgery, are waiting for a transplant, are a spouse of either, or are just curious about the topic.

"Once you've gone through a transplant, your whole life changes just like that," Corsino said. "As a result, you find yourself searching for something after you have a transplant."

Before Corsino received his heart transplant, he said that "my heart was severely damaged. I was on life support until I got the transplant."

He now has the heart of a woman 14 years younger than he is, and said, "when people ask how old I am, I just say I'm young at heart."

Before his surgery, Corsino said he felt like he was living "in a fishbowl," because "you feel like you're in left field and people look at you like you're from outer space."

He added, "you want somebody to bond with and talk to who's about to go through it too."

The main fear of a lot of people, he said, is "what the surgery is all about." Corsino said people also want to know about the medications they will have to take after their surgery and what insurance is available to help with the costs.

Also, after a person has a transplant, he or she will be prone to infections and colds, and he said they talk about "how to handle these situations.

"There's always someone in the group who has been through what you're going through, and they're there to lead them along the way," he added. "We share our stories and it just really helps."

One of the neatest parts about having an organ transplant, Corsino said, is "knowing you're living off of someone else's organs, and that will stay with you forever. You kind of wonder why you didn't die and why you're living. When you're able to help others, it feels like your mission in life."

Corsino said there is a great need for organ donors everywhere, and "it's amazing how many transplants there are and how many are waiting in the Prescott area."

One of the "grossest misconceptions of being an organ donor is that if you're a donor, doctors might not try to keep you alive so they can harvest your organs," Corsino said.

One of the most important parts of the organ support group, he said, is "making people aware that these people are alive and leading normal lives, and that organ donors are always needed."

Gil Neal is another organ transplant receiver, and said the support group is "uplifting, and it makes you feel good to look around the table and see people who are living normal lives."

Doctors diagnosed him in 1997 with primary sclerosing cholangitis, which is a disease that "makes the bile ducts in your liver close so it can't function."

"That was my disease and it was progressing," he added. "There is no known cause for it and no known cure. It's genetic. They said it was progressive, but they didn't know how fast. The only cure was a transplant."

Neal went to the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, where his doctor "began following me and my disease."

He had seven ERCPs ("a procedure to make sure you don't have cancer and also to open up the ducts"), and got two stents, which "still wasn't working."

In May 2002, Neal got "a huge infection and I was really sick. One night I got terrific chills and fever, and my wife and I drove to the Mayo Clinic and I went to the emergency room."

He spent nearly a week in intensive care, and said, "I very nearly died."

After this incident, Neal was moved to the top of the list of people waiting for a liver transplant.

"You have to get really bad, really sick, before you can get moved to the top of the list. I only had to wait two weeks, which is amazingly fast," he added.

Neal said the liver is "the only organ in the body that will recreate itself," and his oldest daughter was a match. As she started to go through the process of giving her father part of her liver, a donor came along.

"It was certainly a blessing for me because I wouldn't have been around long," he said.

Many people who are waiting for a trans-plant "are bound to be apprehensive and worried and scared," and it helps to talk with people who have lived through the experience.

"I'm just glad to be one of them," he added. "I feel truly fortunate because the transplant not only saved my life, but my quality of life. The day I walked out of the hospital, I felt better than I had in years."

Neal said that by becoming an organ donor, "you can save a lot of lives, and I'm living proof."

For more information about the Prescott Area Organ Transplant Support Group, call either Sam Corsino at 778-9394, Gil Neal at 778-1588 or Paul Price at 778-1633.

Contact the reporter at

rbump@prescottaz.com

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