When Antonette Mantanona first heard that her daughter, Kinescia, suffered from Ebstyne’s anomaly, a congenital cardiovascular defect that affects the heart, the mother was both shocked and fearful.
“When they told me that replacing her valves was no longer an option and she needed a heart transplant, I feared for her. I was in denial,” said Mantanona.
Once she became aware of the treatment options for her daughter, Mantanona felt hopeful and confident that Kinescia would be able to find a donor and live a relatively normal life.
Seven years ago when Kinescia was six years-old, physicians found a donor that enabled her to undergo a heart transplant. Although the child experienced one minor rejection since her operation, she has not encountered any significant complications except the many drug treatments that keep Kinescia stable. Now, years after her transplant, Kinescia is only on four medications and lives without any major difficulties.
Dr. Yuk Min Law, a specialist in heart transplants at Seattle Children’s Hospital, describes life after the transplant.
“He/she is like a new person. That’s why families take a chance for transplant,” said Dr. Law. “They have their normal life back. However, it’s not like they live happily ever after. They still have to take a lot of medications, be diligent about taking meds, follow instructions, see the doctor frequently, and get blood tests.”
Most organs for transplants come from people who have suffered brain death. This occurs when the brain no longer functions and there is no oxygen or blood flow to the brain. Once physicians determine that brain death has occurred, the organs are removed and sent to the appropriate location where a patient waits for transplant. Most organs must be used within six to seventy-two hours after removing them from the donor body.
Even with careful maneuvering from physicians, complications can still arise after the transplant. According to Dr. Law, “some common ones are related to surgery, bleeding, infection, wound not healing well enough, kidney failure, rejection, and white cells that destroy the organ.” However, he reassures, “We’re able to control the complications in the modern era.”
In the Asian Pacific Islander community, where many cultural factors inhibit people from organ donation, it is necessary for APIs to become more aware of the need to become organ donors.
“In terms of the donor, sometimes one’s cultural upbringing may make one think that when you die, that’s it. Why bother donating?” Dr. Law said. “A lot of people don’t want to think about it.”
To counteract these inhibitions, APIs can educate themselves about organ donation, learn about the experiences of people who have had successful transplants, and register to become organ donors.
There are approximately 105,000 people in the United States needing an organ donation. To become qualified for organ donation, first register with your state donor registry. Next, designate your decision on your driver’s license. This can be done when renewing your license. Third, sign a donor card now. Finally, tell your friends and family about your decision to become an organ donor. Who knows, you may influence other people to become donors by sharing your experience with them.