On Saturday, September 22, 2012, more than 2,000 runners showed up for the Donate Life Family Fun Run – a non-competitive 5k run and 1k walk to raise awareness for organ, eye and tissue donation and celebrate the gift of life.
University of Maryland Medical Center was the premier sponsor and was well represented by faculty and staff, including transplant surgeons Dr. John LaMattina and Dr. Silke Niederhaus, transplant nurses Lydia Moges and Rebeca Vieira, and Christina Mabry, liver transplant assistant.
Each year, UMMC’s Division of Transplantation performs more than 300 transplants for families from all over the country. But this year’s Donate Life race included a new UMMC patient – Officer Gene Cassidy of the Baltimore City Police Department – who received a life-saving liver transplant in June. Officer Cassidy was shot while on duty in Baltimore 25 years ago. He recovered to become an instructor in the police academy, despite being left blind by his injuries and contracting Hepatitis C from the many blood transfusions at the time, before donors were screened for the disease.
Dr. LaMattina performed the surgery on Officer Cassidy and chose to run the 5k to show his gratitude to all of the donor families who give the gift of life to patients who, like Officer Cassidy, would otherwise die without a transplant.
“I found myself tremendously struck and humbled by the ‘donor walls,’ which in this case were the photos and names of all the donors,” said Dr. LaMattina. “That is something truly special about transplant. Those donor families selflessly turned one of their most difficult times of sorrow into a beautiful, lifesaving gift for another human being.”
More than 80 runners joined Gene Cassidy’s team, appropriately named “The FOG” – Friends Of Gene. They raised more than $5,300, putting them in fourth place for overall team fundraising.
“It was great to see so many people on our team,” said Patti Cassidy, wife of Gene. “It has been a rough summer for our family, and to end the summer in this way was absolutely amazing! Having Dr. LaMattina there was truly special. Some of the best and worst moments of our lives have been spent with him and he will always have a special place in our hearts.”
Dr. Silke Niederhaus, the newest transplant surgeon to join UMMC, had a two-fold attachment to the race. She performs transplants every day, but she also received a kidney transplant herself at age 11 when her kidneys failed due to complications from strep throat. She has been living successfully with her graft for more than two decades. She brings a unique perspective to treating her patients, since she shares their challenges and immunosuppression routines.
The 2012 Donate Life race was Dr. Niederhaus’ first race inMaryland. She said, “We still have a lot of work to do. Many more patients are in desperate need of lifesaving organs, and it takes much more than just 2,000 at a race. As a patient, I never met my donor family, but I am so grateful for all the donor families involved in promoting organ donation. There is just no way to thank them enough.”
Officer Cassidy completed the 1k walk and is already planning his run in the 5k next year. The FOG will be back in action once again.