Facebook Twitter

PLIGHT OF INJURED MAN AWAITING HEART HIGHLIGHTS URGENT NEED FOR ORGAN DONORS

SHARE PLIGHT OF INJURED MAN AWAITING HEART HIGHLIGHTS URGENT NEED FOR ORGAN DONORS

Although they trace their family's roots to Utah, Lee and Brenda Poulton and their two children, Travis, 6, and April, 4, are currently living in a two-bedroom apartment near the Oklahoma Transplantation Institute at the Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City. They have been living there since July 5.

Poulton, 24, is waiting for a heart.He escaped death in a May 1984 accident at the gas station where he is employed in Bayfield, Colo. A tire he was filling with air blew up and smashed into his chest. The impact knocked him 15 feet, pushing his heart between his rib cage and backbone and blowing a golf-ball-sized hole between two large chambers of his heart.

He suffered broken ribs, a broken wrist, a collapsed lung and other injuries. He remembers trying to stand up but instead lapsed into unconsciousness.

When help arrived, Poulton was not breathing and had no pulse. He suffered one heart attack immediately and another at the hospital in Denver where he was flown for emergency surgery.

His chances for survival were only 20 to 1, but because he was young and otherwise in good health, he beat the odds. Except he was left with an aneurysm in his heart that cannot be removed, because, as Poulton says, "it would leave my heart too small to do any good."

Poulton told me on the telephone that he has a 50-50 chance of survival if surgery were performed, and a 95 percent chance if he receives a transplant. Transplant patients are typically told that their life expectancy is five to 10 years. Since Poulton's present life expectancy is only three to five years, the hope burns brightly for him. He cannot work now, and tires easily after any physical exertion.

Dr. David Cooper, who worked with transplant pioneer Dr. Christiaan Barnard in South Africa, came to Oklahoma in 1987. Cooper says that one of his patients in Cape Town, South Africa, is currently the oldest heart transplant patient. It has been 18 years since he was given a new heart.

Cooper believes the chances of finding a donor for Poulton are excellent, but it is impossible to predict when that will happen. He considers Poulton "pretty stable," meaning he is a good candidate for transplant but not ahead of other patients considered "very sick," who would be higher on the waiting list. All Poulton can do, he says, is wait patiently.

The Oklahoma Institute performed 37 heart transplants last year, putting it among the largest of heart transplant institutes in the United States. But the biggest problem is finding heart donors.

In Cooper's opinion, anyone who would accept a heart if he needed one should also be willing to give his own if he meets a sudden death.

According to Cooper, ideal donors for Poulton would be close to his age and of the same or a compatible blood group, which is O. Sex is unimportant. Unfortunately, most people do not decide ahead of time to be organ donors.

What this means is that if more people across the country were sufficiently educated about this problem to inspire them to become organ donors, Poulton's waiting days would now be over.

Instead, he remains hopeful each day that a break will come. "I didn't even know much about heart transplants six months ago," he says. "From the inside, it looks a lot different. You just don't think about it as applying to you or someone you know."

The Poultons have no friends or relatives in Oklaho-ma. And since Poulton cannot engage in physical activity, time goes by very slowly. But his spirits are up. He says he is feeling "pretty good right now."

Fortunately, Poulton's employer's insurance company has covered his medical bills to date and will pay for the transplant operation, which could cost up to $100,000. Once it happens, Poulton could be expected to return to work and function normally.

But he can't do it unless a donor appears.

Even though I cannot directly help Poulton, his story inspired me to become an organ donor. I did some checking and found that anyone in Utah who would like to do so can call the Intermountain Organ Recovery System at 521-1755 (the 800 number is 83DONOR) and request that a donation card be sent.

You then discuss the possibility with your family, fill out the card and put it in your wallet. If you were an accident victim, the card would identify you as a possible donor. In Utah, such a card is not legally binding, and the next of kin would still have to be consulted.

But it would be a fine first step. A step that would be a godsend to someone like Lee Poulton.