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Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Ripple effects as far as Portugal: An organ donor

Christopher Field was a history buff and a Godzilla fan. The 16-year-old youth suffered since birth from scoliosis and an unidentified condition that left his muscles weak. But he led a largely unimpaired life, using a wheelchair only for long walks.

At an appointment in the summer of 2005, doctors noted that his spinal scoliosis had worsened, and suggested immediate surgery to save his internal organs. Nine days after the 14-hour surgery, Christopher developed pneumonia, and his breathing grew labored. He was brought to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). He suffered a fatal blood clot in his lungs (a "pulmonary embolism").

His mother decided to donate his organs to needy patients, setting in motion a ripple effect of tissue donations that have reached as far as Portugal. Two people now can see, with his corneas. His bones have been used to prepare 39 bone grafts, with two transplanted already. Doctors have used his heart tissue to repair a defect in a young Massachusetts boy's heart. The New England Organ Bank counts almost 50 people who will ultimately benefit from Christopher's tissue donation.

To honor his legacy, a float in today's Rose Bowl will bear his picture, and that of 39 other organ donors. The floats will also carry 24 people whose lives were saved and aided by organ, eye, tissue, and blood donors. OneLegacy, a nonprofit organ and tissue recovery agency serving Greater Los Angeles, organized the floats along with sister organizations.

Every once in a while, Christopher's mother receives a letter announcing that another piece of his tissue has been used for transplant. "When I get the letters, I cry," she said. "But I know it's good."

Advice: Sign an organ donor card and keep it in your wallet.

Browse for related stories in the index at the very bottom of this page, or read an organ recipient story.

Thanks to Sarah Schweitzer for the source article in today's Boston Globe.

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