Hundreds die across America while organs go to waste
A few months after her birth, it became clear Kajsa Bupp was not thriving.
"She was down to under four pounds," said her mother, Rowan Rain. "She was incredibly pitiful."
Apparently, while she was still inside the womb, little Kajsa's kidneys had just stopped growing. By the time doctors discovered her condition, it was almost too late. She desperately needed a transplant.
"I had no clue," Rain said. She knew transplants were difficult, but she had no idea that so many people were on the waiting list for them.
It took three years of enduring in-home kidney dialysis before Kajsa got a kidney match - in 2006 from a 24-year-old - that saved her life.
Rain had to deal with mixed emotions when she learned that a transplant finally was available for her daughter.
"My first thought was, 'How wonderful,' but my next thought was immediately for the family of the person who had been killed," Rain recalled.
Two years later Kajsa is now a healthy 5-year-old, and not a day goes by that her parents, now living in Prescott, don't thank the 24-year-old who made the decision to donate.
It's a decision more Arizonans need to make, says Kris Patterson, spokesperson for the Donor Network of Arizona.
The network is the federally designated, not-for-profit organ recovery organization for the state of Arizona. It works with the United Network for Organ Sharing to help distribute organs equitably.
At the end of 2007, only 29 percent of Arizona's population had signed up to be donors. Utah had 70 percent of its population registered as donors and nearby New Mexico had 65 percent of its population signed up, Patterson said.
The reason for Arizona's low percentage may be that, until recently, the state had a confusing, multiple-step sign-up process, Patterson theorized.
Then in February, a new law kicked in that has made signing up a one-step process, she continued. Now, when a person is applying for their drivers license, all they need to do is check off the appropriate organ donor box. The state will mail you a green sticker to attach to your license, Patterson said.
People also can sign up with the Arizona Donor Registry online at www.DonateLifeAZ.org or by calling the registry at 1-800-94-DONOR.
The state considers donor registration a legally binding document for anyone 18 or older, Patterson said. Doctors do not need the family's permission to remove an organ donor's organs unless the donor is younger than 18, she added.
And every time you move into a different state, you must re-register as an organ donor, Patterson explained. Arizonans can check their organ donor status by calling 1-800-94-DONOR and asking a representative to check the Arizona Donor Registry to see if they are listed.
Skull Valley's Richard Bowerman, 69, got his liver transplant 13 years ago from a 23-year-old former state wrestling champion from Torrance, Calif. Doctors discovered Bowerman's failing liver when he underwent a physical for a year-long teaching stint in Australia.
Turalee Smith of Prescott Valley had a son who was about to graduate from high school and a daughter who was planning a wedding when doctors gave Smith - whose eyesight and kidneys were failing - a year to live.
"It all came as a surprise to me," Smith said. "My kids didn't think Mom was gonna make it. I told my son if I wasn't there, he'd feel my hands on that diploma."
As it turned out, the parents of a 15-year-old boy killed in a traffic accident thought of others during their grief. One of their son's kidneys went to Smith; the rest of his organs went to others.
More than 99,000 people in the United States are waiting for an organ transplant. Seventeen of those people die each day waiting, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services figures.
"My favorite saying is, 'Why take your organs to heaven - heaven knows we need them here,'" Smith said.
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