Thanking Donors with All of Our Heart

By: Hope Gamper, Editorial Intern

Most people know February 14th as Valentine’s Day,  but February 14th also shares the honor of being National Donor Day. National Donor Day honors donors of organs, tissues, marrow, platelets and blood. This Valentine’s Day, consider giving the gift of life to someone in need and celebrate the amazing generosity of former donors.


A Great Need for Organ Donors

Every 10 minutes, someone is added to the waiting list for an organ. While UMMC offers multiple listing, potentially allowing a patient to receive an organ sooner, the need for donors is still great.

As the demand for organs rises, so does the need for organ donors. There are two types of organ donors: deceased donors and living donors, and both play an important role in healing someone in need.

A donation from a deceased individual can save as many as 8 lives and the process is facilitated by the Living Legacy Foundation. Deceased donors can provide tissues, corneas and organs such as the kidneys, pancreas, liver, lungs, heart and intestines. Donations are only considered after all life-saving efforts have been exhausted. To prepare for this type of donation, update your driver’s license donor status through the MVA.

The living organ donation process allows living individuals the ability to donate whole kidneys or parts of the liver, pancreas, lungs and intestines. Most of these organs either regenerate on their own or can function without a small portion. Receiving a transplant from a living donor is often an alternative to waiting on the national transplant waiting list. Learn more about living donation for a loved one.

Where Donations Go

Transplant surgeons at UMMC perform a total of more than 420 transplants, but there are currently more than 123,000 people in need of lifesaving transplants. You may direct a donation to a specific individual or your donation may go to the next eligible person on the waiting list. Patients who receive your donation will be matched based on an array of factors including blood type and severity of illness.

To those in need, donating an organ is an indescribable gift.  Successful UMMC transplant recipients for heart, kidney, lungliver and other conditions, have gone on to live joyfully once again.

Crayon Heart 122607070

To the Heart of the Matter – Ways You Can Help

  • Consider giving the gift of life this Donor Day. Learn more about providing a living donation for a loved one from the UMMC Transplant Center.
  • Become an organ donor by opting in the next time you renew your driver’s license or filling out the online registry form here:
  • Sign up with the Red Cross for a UMMC blood drive to donate blood or platelets.

And most importantly, thank an organ donor and their heroic and truly altruistic gift that has given thousands of people a second chance at life.

The ‘Seeker’ Gives Through a Living Kidney Donation

Matthew Taylor writes about “living an authentic life in a world of artifice” in his blog, “The Seeker.” This week, he posted a frank and engaging piece about donating one of his kidneys to his wife, who suffered from polycystic kidney disease.  Here’s an excerpt:

“After some soul searching, I decided to give her one of mine. It was not an easy decision to make since there were many factors to consider, but I am at peace with it now. In fact, I’ve come to appreciate some things about a kidney transplant that I never would have thought of before.”

Taylor, a writer who lives in Rockville, Md., gave the University of Maryland Medical Center, where his donation and his wife’s transplant were performed, permission to direct readers to his post,  “25 Ways to Appreciate a Kidney Transplant.”

The University of Maryland Medical Center is home to the second-largest kidney transplant program in the country. The surgeons involved in Taylor’s donation and his wife’s transplant were Michael Phelan, MD; David Leeser, MD; and Stephen Bartlett, MD.

A Gift of Life and Friendship After a Family’s Loss

The weekly StoryCorps segment on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition is a highlight for the show’s listeners. Today’s StoryCorps interview was very special to staff at UMMC.

Rick Bounds received a lifesaving liver and kidney transplant here in 2007. Today, he’s a healthy triathlete with four competitions and a 100-mile bike ride to his name. And he serves as a member of the Medical Center’s Patient and Family Partnership Council.

Go to the NPR site to hear or read the conversation between Rick Bounds and Dorothy Biernack, whose husband, Marty, was the organ donor who made it possible for Rick to live. Rick and Dorothy get together several times a year to celebrate Marty’s lifesaving final gift.

Young Accountant Reaches Professional Milestone One Year After Living Donor Liver Transplant

By Jennifer Dietrick

Baltimore, MD

FEBRUARY 18, 2013 — As of today, I am officially one year post-op! One year ago, Dr. Barth and Dr. LaMattina had finished the living donor liver transplantation that saved my life!  When the doctors returned to the waiting room to update my family, the entire room erupted in applause! My boyfriend, Rob, was the donor.  Here’s what I’ve been up to in the past year:

I’ve been very busy with work. Being an accountant, this is our busiest time of the year so I am trying really hard to keep up. My biggest goal is to become a CPA (Certified Public Accountant). The test is VERY difficult. It is split into 4 grueling sections which require about 2 months of intensive studying each, while working a full-time schedule.

Before I went into acute liver failure, I had passed 2 parts of the exam (halfway!) but unfortunately, all 4 parts of the exam must be passed within an 18-month time frame. I lost the 2 parts that I had passed during the past year while I was focusing on my recovery. It was very disappointing. In December of 2012, I finally started getting some energy back after struggling with persistent anemia and a hematocrit between 28-30 (36 is normal). I studied really hard during the holidays and took 1 part on January 4 and I just found out that I PASSED!! Now I am on my way again to achieving my goal — and I am only 1 year post-op.

It’s such a wonderful feeling! During the past year, my recovery was really difficult and it seemed like I would never get better and now, 1 year out, I am down to 2 pills, twice a day and living a completely normal life!

I wanted to share this with other patients in hopes that it may provide some hope for anyone recovering or for those who have loved ones recovering from transplants or any other major surgery. There IS a light at the end of the tunnel and it is frustrating getting there but if you keep on working at it, you WILL go on to live the life you imagined and more!

You don’t have to be defined by the fact that you are a transplant recipient or let it hold you back from accomplishing your goals and dreams! Yes, I received a liver transplant but hopefully in the future I will be defined as Jennifer Dietrick, CPA!!


UMMC Kidney Transplant Team Hangs on for Dear Life

Contributed by Michelle Klein
Pre-Transplant Coordinator, UMMC Division of Transplantation

Scared. Panicked. Frightful.

What am I doing?

These were some of the feelings I was having in the final moments before I rappelled 32 stories from the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel on Saturday, June 9, 2012.  I am scared of roller coasters and water slides. I won’t even ride Space Mountain at Disney World, yet here I was for the second year, strapped into a harness, about to dangle from 32 stories high to benefit Rappel for Kidney Health, a fundraising event hosted by the National Kidney Foundation of Maryland.

Yet as the rappel volunteers lowered me off the roof, a sense of calm came over me. Instead of being scared, all I could think about was how much my jump, along with the rest of the rappellers, was giving someone else a shot at a new life.

I thought about how fearful and scared some of my patients are when facing surgery to receive a transplanted organ or how they feel when they find out for the first time that their kidney failed without warning. I thought about how many trials and tribulations my patients go through even before they reach transplant surgery. I thought about how the National Kidney Foundation of Maryland, through donations and events like this one, is able help so many patients, especially the ones I work with daily at UMMC.

I remembered how excited I was to tell Kelly Meltzer (Director of the National Kidney Foundation of Maryland) that I am not rapelling alone this year – that I had convinced three more people to join me because they also believe in the mission. My fellow team members from UMMC included Deb Evans, Heather Hurley and Michele Postol. I had such a great experience last year that I volunteered to be part of the Rappel for Kidney Health Committee for this year.

These thoughts overpowered any fear I had about rappelling 32 stories. As I made my way down the side of the Marriott, a funny thing happened, I actually began to enjoy it! It was great to have to a bird’s eye view of the Inner Harbor and the water.  It was an honor to be part of the Rappel for Kidney Health event and I can’t wait for next year’s jump!

Here are some key kidney facts from the National Kidney Foundation:

  • More than 90,000 people are on the waitlist for a kidney transplant.
  • 10 people die each day while waiting for a kidney transplant.
  • 26 million Americans have chronic kidney disease, and most don’t know it.
  • Every 5 minutes, someone’s kidney fails.
  • More than 380,000 people depend on dialysis for survival.

As a Pre-Transplant coordinator at the University of Maryland for 6+ years, I am honored to be a part of this institution. We have surgeons who are so technically advanced that they can care for the most complex patients when other centers can’t offer them any options. I have the pleasure of working with the pre- transplant coordinators, assistants, and nurses who live and breathe transplant all day, every day.

I believe that early detection of kidney disease, having a living donor transplant when possible, and getting an early referral to the transplant division can help kidney transplant patients have their best outcomes.

We are still raising money to help fight kidney disease, so feel free to donate to our UMMC Transplant team.

Rappel on!






Annual Concert “Rocks” for Living Donor Clinic

By Marla Blackwell

Editor’s Note: In 2008, Marla Blackwell donated a kidney to her mother.  During her first visit to UMMC, her social worker put her in touch with Lee Adams, who had donated a kidney the year before.  Adams is also the person who created the UMMC Living Donor Follow-Up Clinic Annual Benefit Concert.  Marla felt compelled to help Lee with the event and has been involved ever since. This year, Marla will assist in hosting the fourth annual Night with Nashville fundraising concert on September 8 in Falling Waters, WV.  Read Marla’s story below:

If I had been told earlier in my life, “Someday you will be donating a kidney,” I wouldn’t have believed it. Though, on June 18, 2008, I did that very thing.  At the age of 34, I donated a kidney to my mother.

But it wasn’t as easy as that.  For all the mothers, you may relate to my mother who made it very clear to all of us, three years before I donated to her, that she would not be taking a kidney from any of her children.

Those three years passed on by. My mother fought every day to stay alive, but her disease eventually took complete control of her body. It was early January of 2008 that I decided to do research on the single incision laparoscopic kidney removal to gather more information about the procedure.  My mother had mentioned she was in touch with the University of Maryland Transplant Center, so I started my research on their Web site and found a previously recorded surgical webcast of a living donor kidney transplant.  It was fascinating and I said to myself,” I can really do this.”

I did a little more homework on the procedure, the recovery and the long-term effects and didn’t feel any reservations about going through with it. It’s worth noting at this point that this story represents my personal experience and my feelings about donating a kidney. It is different for each living organ donor, such as Lee Adams, author of Donor Girl, who illustrates each moment of her experience as a living donor in her inspirational book.

My mother did eventually agree to proceed with the testing, and it turned out I was an excellent match for her. The overall experience with the UMMC Transplant Team was amazing from the moment I went for my initial testing until the day I was released from the hospital. It was during my very first visit to UMMC that I met my social worker, who offered to put me in touch with a woman who had donated a kidney one year ago and understood what I was going through.

That woman is Lee Adams, and every year she conducts the UMMC Living Donor Follow-Up Clinic Benefit.  The benefit raises funds for the UMMC Living Donor Follow-Up Clinic, created by Matthew Cooper, M.D.  Dr. Cooper and the UMMC Transplant Team implemented this program to provide living organ donors the quality medical follow-up care they may need after donating life.

I was compelled to help, and I reached out to Lee to see how I could be involved.  Since then, I have embraced this wonderful cause and it’s been quite a humbling experience to be able to give back and be part of this awesome benefit.  Throughout the past few years, the UMMC Living Donor Follow-Up Clinic has been able to provide follow-up support to many living donors through the generous contributions from others.

The clinic provides various services, including emotional support through the availability of counselors. This is an area of the clinic I am very passionate about and hope to see continue to grow and expand.  The donor makes the decision to donate life and embraces the experience, although the unexpected emotions from others around them, such as family members, may occur weeks or months after donation. To know the clinic is available for this type of support for donors is priceless.  As Lee Adams states, “I was ecstatic to hear that UMMC was opening a living organ donor clinic that would offer follow-up care at six months, one year and two years. The chance to meet with doctors, counselors and nurses who understood a donor’s needs and knew what to expect in our recovery made me feel much more comfortable that my future health was as important as the recipients. And for a donor who volunteers to put their health on the line, that is a very important reassurance.”

Since my donation three years ago, I married my best friend, Brian Blackwell, and we are expecting our first child in January.  The experience of donating has been life changing in every way and I will forever be an advocate for living organ donors.  I look forward to raising funds for the UMMC Living Donor Follow-up Clinic for many years to come.

The UMMC Living Donor Follow-Up Clinic is continuing to make monumental strides in making a difference in living donor’s lives.  I would like to thank the entire UMMC Transplant Team for all their unconditional support and for providing the ultimate follow-up care for living organ donors.

Note: The UMMC Living Donor Follow-Up Clinic was designed to provide basic needs for the donor and any donation-related complication after their surgery. It is required that all living donor programs provide follow-up appointments at six months, one year and two years post-donation. The goal of UMMC’s clinic is to ensure donors’ kidney health remains stable following the donation.  After the 2-year anniversary of their organ donation, the UMMC Living Donor Follow-Up Clinic remains available for donors that have ongoing needs related to their kidney health or need answers to simple questions regarding preventative medicine to ensure their best quality of life.

UMMC Heart-Liver Transplant Patient Promotes Organ Donation Awareness

By William Benamati
UMMC Heart and Liver Transplant Recipient

Editor’s Note: This post features excerpts from William Benamati’s CaringBridge site, which was created to keep his friends and family updated on his struggle with familial amyloidosis disease and his heart-liver transplant that was done at the University of Maryland Medical Center on February 21, 2011.

I am 42 years old and a married father of three. My family and I live in Curwensville Pa. I have been a funeral director since 1990 and am the location manager at Bennett & Houser Funeral Home in Clearfield and Mohney-Yargar Funeral Chapel in DuBois.

Without the generous gift of a heart and liver from an organ donor, I would be facing certain death. I have been speaking to many clubs and civic organizations about my illness and to promote organ donation awareness. As a funeral director, I have seen firsthand how organ donation has helped families cope with the unexpected loss of a loved one — providing them with some sort of good feeling knowing that their loss was not in vain and has allowed someone else to live.

Many people do not know how I ended up needing a transplant. My dad died in November 2007 and shortly after in the spring of 2008, I noticed that my heart would flutter for no reason at all. Around that same time, I was having gastrointestinal problems that caused me to steadily lose a lot of weight. I went from about 220 pounds to 150 over a period of a few months. At this point I saw doctor after doctor but all of my tests were normal! As soon as they found out I was a funeral director, they said it was all work-related stress and I needed to work on my anxiety. But in my heart I knew there was something physically wrong.

In 2009 I had a bout with kidney stones and the night before my fifth kidney stone procedure, my older brother David died unexpectedly at the age of 42 of a massive heart attack. That summer, the gastrointestinal issues continued and new symptoms developed. My feet hurt as if they were on fire, and my legs were weakening. In late October I contracted the flu, spent a week in ICU and was discharged the night before Thanksgiving. A cardiac catheterization showed that I had a wonderful heart, but I felt like I was slowly dying. How true my assessment was.

I was home for about two weeks and ended up hospitalized for 10 days with pneumonia. I was now using a cane to walk, and it was recommended that I see a neurologist.

In January 2010, I met with a neurologist who informed me that I had early-onset Parkinson’s disease. I was accepting, but my wife however was not. She disagreed with that diagnosis wholeheartedly, and researched the illness for days if not weeks. The pain in my legs had become unbearable, my heart was weakening, and I truly felt that I would not see 2011. She argued with the neurologist who finally agreed to conduct a nerve study — and lo and behold, the doctor realized that I had very severe neuropathy in my legs. My nerves were dying, and whatever I had was affecting my blood pressure and my GI tract.

I had a sural nerve biopsy in April and two days before my daughter’s senior prom, I received a death sentence: amyloidosis. A visit to a local hospital in June accompanied by a genetic test sent to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota revealed I had hereditary “familial” amyloidosis. This disease has been passed through my father’s family, and we now know my father had it. His symptoms were exactly the same as mine.

It was later determined that my heart was failing because the amyloids, which are produced by the liver, were attacking the heart and the nervous system. The local hospital where I had been treated does not perform multiple organ transplants, so they referred me a few blocks south to University of Maryland Medical Center. I was listed for exactly seven months when a donor was found for me. I would have started my eighth month of waiting on the day I was actually transplanted.

Dr. Erika Feller was my cardiologist and it was through her that we decided to do the heart and liver transplant at the same time. Dr. Rolf Barth did a good portion of the liver transplant and Dr. Bartley Griffith put in the new heart. Everyone worked together; it was seamless. The surgery went very smoothly — I thought it was going to take 12 hours, but they were done in 7-1/2 hours. They kept my wife very well-informed the entire time.

The whole team was wonderful. The doctors and nurses all worked as a team and they all deserve a lot of credit.

After the transplant, I’m feeling pretty good. I’m just happy to be able to get out and go to my son’s ball games. I do plan on returning to work at some point. I just passed the 100-day mark since my transplant, so it’s a good sign things are progressing the way we want them to.

I have many blessings and can’t wait to start my second life. Remember the 3 Fs: Faith, Family, Friends. Without the 3 Fs I would not be here today.

Donate Life: A Transplant Surgeon’s Powerful and Personal Plea

By Matthew Cooper, M.D.
Director of Kidney Transplantation

Recent world events are a powerful reminder of life’s uncertainty. Even if everything seems fine today, none of us really knows what dramatic changes or tragic circumstances we might face tomorrow. The more than 110,000 Americans waiting for lifesaving organ transplants feel the pain of an uncertain future each and every day.

April is National Donate Life Month, an excellent opportunity to learn more about organ and tissue donation. There are many great resources to answer some of the questions you or a family member may have about living donation as well. The University of Maryland Medical Center Web site has a whole section on living kidney donation, including answers to frequently asked questions. Data is available on the United Network of Organ Sharing’s Web site about the numbers of patients waiting, the time with which they wait for that call, and efforts at a national level to improve the quality and outcomes for organ transplantation.

Organizations such as the National Kidney Foundation have initiatives like “End the Wait!” and provide readers with basic yet substantial things that can be done on a personal level to help make a difference to someone in need. Importantly, register as an organ donor on the National Kidney Foundation Web site or sign up for your state’s donor registry in conjunction with the Department of Motor Vehicles. Share your wishes with your family and talk about your decision to inspire others.

As a transplant surgeon I have the privilege of seeing day by day the life-changing (literally giving life to another human being) opportunities via organ donation. A recent example was the inspiring case of 26-year-old Drew Sollenberger, who came to us wanting to donate a kidney to the person of greatest need. This person turned out to be a 2-year-old boy with life threatening kidney disease, who now has a second chance at life.

I regularly share with anyone who will listen that I know I have the best job in the world. We have an incredible team made of truly wonderful individuals invested in transplantation here at the University of Maryland. A group of hundreds is necessary to make certain we protect this valuable resource in an organ for transplantation. But we cannot do this job we love without you. It only takes one … one decision to last for another’s lifetime.

Life is like a relay race. When my run is complete, I hope to pass the baton to someone who is waiting to receive the gift of life to advance on their own journey. I cannot be sure that they will win or even finish the race, but without someone to pass the baton, I know that they will continue to wait or may even die prematurely.

While you can’t control the future, you can choose to pass on the Gift of Life to make a lifetime of tomorrows possible by registering as an organ and tissue donor and considering living donation.

April is Donate Life Month!

Other Posts by Dr. Cooper

Real-Life Heroes Recognized at UMMC

By Malissa Carroll
Web Content Developer

Eight health care professionals from the University of Maryland Medical Center and the University of Maryland School of Medicine were recently recognized as finalists in the Daily Record’s 2011 Health Care Heroes awards program.

From a transplant surgeon who pioneered the use of single-incision laparoscopic kidney removal to benefit those selfless individuals who step forward to donate kidneys to their loved ones at the UMMC Transplant Center to an oncology nurse who rallied individuals in the UMMC community to knit and crochet more than 100 lap blankets for cancer patients this past holiday season, these individuals embody the spirit of the word “hero” and make a positive impact on the lives of others each day.

For more information about the finalists, please visit the Health Care Heroes Finalists page on the UMMC Web site, which features a complete list of the eight UMMC finalists, the reason each was nominated and a wealth of related links and information.

Becoming A Non-Directed Kidney Donor

This four-minute video features living kidney donor Drew Sollenberger discussing why he felt it was important for him to become a non-directed donor. A non-directed donor is an individual who expresses a desire to donate one of his or her kidneys, but who does not have a recipient to receive the organ.

Dr. Matthew Cooper, director of kidney transplantation and clinical research in the Division of Transplantation at the University of Maryland Medical Center, also appears in the video to discuss the process of becoming a non-directed donor, including the benefits available to donors as a result of a new, minimally invasive surgical technique now being employed to remove the kidney from the donor.

Drew’s kidney was donated to a young child who was struggling to survive before the kidney became available.

Related Information: