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A life consumed by sleep

Nothing he tried had worked. For Sigurjon Jakobsson, the trip to Atlanta with his family was a last-ditch effort to wake up. He had struggled with sleeping excessively for several years before coming from Iceland to see a visionary neurologist, who might have answers. In high school, Sigurjon was a decathlete competing as part of Iceland’s national sports team. But at the age of 16, an increasing need for sleep began to encroach upon his life. Read more

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organ donation

Kidney donation kicks off life-saving chain reaction


In this video, players in this extraordinary transplant exchange tell their story.
You can also watch “The Mother of All Swaps,” a news report from 11 Alive Atlanta

When Jon Pomenville of Anderson, SC, decided to donate a kidney altruistically to someone – anyone in need, anywhere in the country – little did he know his selfless sacrifice would in turn change the lives of not one, but numerous individuals and their families, including one little boy from Atlanta.

And little did he know that the selfless, anonymous act would quickly become not so anonymous. During a recent post-surgical clinic visit to Emory University Hospital, Pomenville met by accident – right in the transplant clinic waiting room – many of the individuals whose lives were changed. Soon the patients – recipients and donors – two father and son combinations and Pomenville, the man who would give to anyone – were hugging, shaking hands, and recounting their backgrounds and experiences.

Pomenville and the others, who were all part of what is called a paired kidney exchange, were unwittingly scheduled for appointments within a short period of one another. As one person began recounting the experience, eyes and ears began to focus on the tale being told from across a crowded room.

People involved in the six-person kidney exchange

A chance meeting in a doctors’ waiting room led to a meeting between most of the people involved in the paired kidney exchange.

The Emory Transplant Center created and opened its innovative Paired Donor Kidney Exchange Program in 2009, providing greater hope for patients in need of kidney transplants. According to Kenneth Newell, MD, director of Emory’s living donor program, a paired exchange donation allows healthy individuals to donate a kidney to either a friend, loved one, or even altruistically to a stranger, despite incompatible blood matches. In paired donation, a donor and recipient are matched with another incompatible donor and recipient and the kidneys are exchanged between the pairs.

The procedure is another form of living donor transplantation. Donated kidneys also come from recently deceased donors. While most kidneys from deceased donors function well, studies have shown that a kidney from a living donor, either a blood relative or an unrelated person, provides the greatest chance for long-term success.

“Paired donor exchanges allow us to cast a much wider net to find compatible donors and recipients,” says Newell. “With a paired kidney transplant, one incompatible donor-pair is able to give a healthy kidney to a compatible recipient. In exchange, the second donor-recipient pair will give a compatible kidney to the first donor-recipient pair, making two compatible living donor transplants possible and increasing the potential number of available donor kidneys. This option can help those patients waiting for kidney transplants who have family members or friends willing to be donors and who are medically suitable, but who have an ABO blood type that is incompatible with the recipient’s blood type.”

Because of Pomenville’s donation, a 7-year-old boy named Zion was able to receive a lifesaving kidney from an unrelated donor because his dad, Mike, was able to donate. His surgery took place at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston.

And Gerald Smith of Five Points, Ala., would receive his life-saving kidney because his son, Matt, a recent University of Alabama graduate, would donate his to Zion. And finally, 20 year-old Edward Hill of Macon, a young man with a history of health challenges, would also receive his transplant at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta – completing the six-person cycle, although the donor of Edward’s kidney is still unknown.

And Zion and Matt Smith will not only share a common bond and connection throughout life in the form of a kidney, but something even sweeter that that … blue Powerade.

“I’ve always really enjoyed drinking Powerade, particularly the blue flavor,” says Smith. Shortly after Zion awoke from his surgery, he inexplicably began requesting the blue-tinted soft drink too.

Other powerful kidney transplant stories out of Emory:

Posted on by Lance Skelly in Uncategorized Leave a comment

Emory Fellow and Heart Transplant Survivor Rides in Rose Parade

Dr.Shih and her husband Chad Aleman, MD, decorating and dedicating a rose on the actual float prior to the parade.

Dr.Shih and her husband Chad Aleman, MD, decorating and dedicating a rose on the actual float prior to the parade.

Jennifer Shih, MD, a current Fellow in the Department of Allergy and Immunology at Emory University School of Medicine and a heart transplant survivor, was an honored guest on the Donate Life float in the 2011 Rose Parade.

Dr. Shih, second from left, riding on the Donate Life float, which won the trophy for best theme

Dr. Shih, second from left, riding on the Donate Life float, which won the trophy for best theme

Dr. Shih was one of five winners who received a trip to Pasadena, California, and an opportunity to be in the Rose Parade through an essay contest sponsored by Astellas’ Ride of a Lifetime.

In 2004, after Dr. Shih had completed three years of pediatric residency to fulfill her dream of becoming a pediatric cardiologist, her world was suddenly turned upside down.

She was on call one night Cincinnati Children’s Hospital when she started feeling tired and short of breath. She knew something was wrong. Instinctively, she performed an echocardiogram and found fluid around her heart.  Shih diagnosed herself with a heart condition, giant cell myocarditis.

Her condition quickly deteriorated and within a week of being hospitalized, she was told she would die without a heart transplant. She was placed on a BiVAD (Bi-ventricular Assist Device) to keep her alive.

Less than two weeks after self-diagnosis, she received a life-saving heart transplant.

Although she wasn’t able to practice pediatric cardiology anymore due to the activity and risk of infection exposure post-transplantation, she was able to change her specialty to allergy and immunology. Shih says her experience makes her a more empathetic doctor because she truly understands what it is like to be a patient.

Along with her family and friends, Shih created the Have a Heart Benefit Fund in 2004, which raises money to provide patient care, education and research the transplant field.  She says she has always loved helping people, and she felt this would be a great way of showing her appreciation to donor families.

“I would not be alive today without my gift of life. I am a testament to the impact becoming an organ donor can be. You can have the opportunity to save eight lives in one day by being an organ donor… how many of us would have that opportunity otherwise?” Shih asks.

Read Jennifer’s winning essay.

Posted on by Wendy Darling in Uncategorized 1 Comment

Biomarker may predict serious complications after lung transplantation

Researchers at Emory studying lung transplantation have identified a marker of inflammation that may help predict primary graft dysfunction (PGD), an often fatal complication following a lung transplant.

Primary graft dysfunction after a lung transplant

The results are published in the American Journal of Transplantation. First author Andres Pelaez, a pulmonary medicine specialist at Emory’s McKelvey Lung Transplant Center, and postdoc Patrick Mitchell led the research team.

“Despite major advances in surgical techniques and clinical management, serious lung transplant complications are common and often untreatable,” Pelaez says. “PGD is a severe lung injury appearing just a few days after transplantation. Unfortunately, predicting which lung transplant recipients go on to develop PGD has been so far unsuccessful. Therefore, our research has been directed towards identifying predictive markers in the donor lungs prior to transplantation.”

Read more

Posted on by Quinn Eastman in Uncategorized Leave a comment

New tool in the fight for scarce donor organs

With so many men, women and children desperately awaiting a life-saving donor liver through traditional means – those donated by a deceased individual – transplant surgeons at Emory University Hospital looked for ways to improve the odds. transplantcenterlogo

Recently, Emory doctors were the first in Georgia to perform a rare “domino” liver transplant procedure – in effect saving two lives with one donor organ. The doctors had a opportunity to discuss the procedure at a media briefing held a few days ago.

The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) says there are currently more than 16,000 Americans currently awaiting a liver transplant.

Domino liver transplant procedures are aptly named for the sequential, one-after-the-other nature of the process in which a viable liver from a deceased donor is transplanted into the first recipient, and the first recipient’s organ is then transplanted into a second recipient. The procedure is still extremely unusual, with fewer than 100 done in the United States since the first in 1996.

According to Stuart Knechtle, MD, professor of surgery in the Emory School of Medicine and director of the Emory liver transplant program, domino transplants are a rare but effective way of overcoming the national shortage of organs available for transplant. In most cases of domino liver transplants, one of the donated livers is transplanted from a patient with another type of disorder that does not affect the organ recipient.

“This successful domino liver transplant is something that simply does not start or end in a hospital operating room,” says Knechtle.

Liver recipient Bob Massie discusses his “miracle.”

Liver recipient Jean Handler discusses being “thankful and shocked.”

“This procedure, which saved two lives,” says Knechtle, “and will impact both families for many years to come, is the end result of a long chain of special events, starting with the decision by one person to donate the gift of life upon his untimely demise, which in turn allowed the recipient of that person’s organ to then donate hers to another patient.”

You can view the full briefing at this web site.

Posted on by Lance Skelly in Uncategorized Leave a comment