ORGAN DONATION 'Natural thing ... even in death'
St. Elizabeth's is a leading source of organs for transplant, but the demand is never met.
YOUNGSTOWN -- The silver linings are impossible to see when your spouse dies suddenly from a brain aneurysm.
But Kimberly Poma now knows at least two are out there: the men who received the kidneys that belonged to her husband, James, until he died Feb. 1 at age 49.
"The one good thing to his passing away was that we got to do this," she said.
James Poma's donation is part of an exceptionally large supply of organs from St. Elizabeth Health Center in Youngstown. St. Elizabeth's recovered organs from 12 donors last year -- the most from any hospital in the 20 northern Ohio counties covered by LifeBanc, the region's organ and tissue recovery agency.
Most common cause
As a level 1 trauma center, St. Elizabeth's sees a lot of head injuries, the most common cause of death for organ donors. The next-nearest trauma centers are Akron City Hospital, which also had 12 donors, and hospitals in Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
"We get the most seriously injured accident victims in a large area," said Sally Hammel, St. Elizabeth's spokeswoman.
It's a tragic distinction, but one that carries hope outside the emergency room. In northeast Ohio, 1,300 are awaiting transplants, said Stephanie Jansky, LifeBanc spokeswoman, a list that stretches to 90,000 nationwide. In Ohio, 216 people died waiting for an organ transplant in 2003.
Any time a potential donor is about to die, hospitals call a local donation coordinator such as LifeBanc, which begins the process of evaluating the patient for donation suitability and finding a match among transplant candidates. Preference is given locally, but if no matches are made, the organ is offered nationally.
A donor declaration on a driver's license makes the donation process more straightforward, but LifeBanc and hospitals often discuss donation with family members even when wishes aren't known in advance. Once a patient meets one of two current standards for death, a "harvesting team" of surgeons cuts out usable organs, stores them in a preservative chemical and packs them in coolers filled with ice.
Time is of the essence. Hearts or lungs must be transplanted within four hours, while livers or pancreas can last 12 hours. Kidneys can last up to 36 hours, according to LifeBanc.
The demand is highest for kidneys. Nearly 1,000 northeast Ohio patients -- 70 percent of those waiting for donations -- need to replace kidneys, mostly because of hypertension and diabetes, Jansky said.
Poma, a Boardman resident, received word recently that her husband's kidneys reached two men in Cleveland: One, 59, is married with three children, and the other, a 29-year-old, has two children.
Remarkably, Poma said, both men have hobbies and interests similar to those of her husband, who owned a window company in Boardman and with his wife reared two children: Ivy, 16, and Jonathan, 19.
Now Poma is trying to get in touch with the recipients, which LifeBanc allows if both parties consent.
"I just want to let them know how important this would have been to my husband," Poma said. "He was always doing things to help other people. It just seemed a natural thing for him to be able to do one more thing, even in death."