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April 27, 2008

Organ recipients, families gather to remember and pray

By Michelle Martin


Ben Mazzone felt the presence of someone with him this Easter as he prayed during Mass at St. Benedict Church on Irving Park.

He felt the presence of the woman whose lungs he now breathes with. All he knows about her is that she was young, and she died in Buffalo, N.Y.

“I believe in the communion of saints,” Mazzone said. “I will meet her one day.”

Mazzone lit a candle for her April 10 at “Let Yourself Begin Again,” a candlelight ceremony at Loyola University Medical Center’s Paul V. Galvin Memorial Chapel for organ transplant patients and their families to honor and remember their donors. The event recognized National Donate Life Month.

Jesuit Father Jack Coakley, speaking at the end of the service, gestured to the dozens of candles that had been lit from the chapel’s Easter candle.

“This is the candle of life,” he said. “This shows us how the Lord brings new life out of death.”

Many transplants

Loyola has one of the leading organ transplant centers in the nation, offering heart, heart/lung, bone marrow, corneal, kidney and liver transplant programs.

Mazzone received his lungs on Oct. 13, 2006, a day after an earlier planned transplant fell through and doctors recommended that he be placed in hospice care. His parents pleaded for a little more time, and medical staff at Loyola agreed to place him on a ventilator for four days. After that, they said, the damage to his body would be too great to qualify for a transplant.

Mazzone struggled since 2001 with the effects of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis — an unexplained scarring of the lung tissue. Throughout it all, he and his parents prayed.

They were praying when he was in the hospital with Father Jason Malave, pastor at his parents’ parish of St. Bartholomew in Chicago, when the doctor came in and told them they found a new donor.

Now generally healthy, Mazzone needs checkups about every three months. He and his family have become strong advocates for organ donation.

“I’m pro-life, and this is part of it,” he said. “You have to be pro-life all the way.”

Speakers at the ceremony included a Woodridge man who had a heart transplant, a professional flamenco dancer who received a double lung transplant, a young man from Homewood whose liver transplant allowed him to return to work and get married and an older couple from Greece who are wellknown composers and performers of Greek music.

Cardinal George on organ donation

In a letter announcing National Donor Sabbath in 2005 Cardinal George wrote:

“Organ donation and transplantation are an expression of human compassion and of our participation in Christ’s love for his people.

“With more than 89,000 Americans waiting for lifesaving organ transplants and thousands more waiting for life-enhancing tissue or cornea transplants, the challenge to participate in this form of charity is clear. Pope Benedict XVI participates personally as a cardcarrying organ donor.”

Catholic Church on organ donation

“Organ transplants are in conformity with the moral law if the physical and psychological dangers and risks to the donor are proportionate to the good that is sought for the recipient. Organ donation after death is a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as an expression of generous solidarity.

“It is not morally acceptable if the donor or his proxy has not given explicit consent.

“Moreover, it is not morally admissible directly to bring about the disabling mutilation or death of a human being, even in order to delay the death of other persons” (No. 2296).

A spousal match

Dimitra Gaitanos, who lost her vision in a car accident in Greece when she was young, spent years caring for her husband through kidney failure and dialysis, anal cancer and kidney cancer. Finally, a year after his last cancer surgery, she was tested and made a match, allowing her to donate a kidney to her husband.

“It was a miracle,” Dimitra Gaitanos said, holding her husband’s hand as they made their way through the crowd. “He is so healthy, and I am so healthy.”

The family of Mark Jastczemski, 22, is hoping that he will have health like that one day. First diagnosed with leukemia at age 4, Mark had a bone marrow transplant at the University of Iowa Hospitals at age 6, said his father, Alan.

Then he had a double lung transplant in 1998 at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. His mother, Pam, gave him a kidney in 2001. Now his lungs are failing and he is on the transplant list at Loyola, his father said.

“Up until this semester, he was a full-time student at Dominican University in River Forest,” Alan Jastczemski said.

But most organ transplants are bittersweet, because the recipients know that someone else died before they could get a second chance at life. Mother Julie Prangl of Arlington Heights, talked about the death of her son, Nick Poto — which happened while her daughter was awaiting a graft to replace her ankle, which was damaged since birth.

Nick’s ankle was too big for his sister Lindsey, but it did go to someone else. His heart went to a father of four girls in his 50s, his kidneys to a 30-year-old woman and a 13-year-old girl, his liver to a 9-year-old boy.

“Nick’s dream was to make a difference in the world,” his mother said. “And he accomplished his dream.”

Who is waiting?

The following lists, by organ, the number of people in Illinois waiting to receive a transplant, (as of April 11, 2008) according to the Organ Procurement and Transplant Network:

  • Kidney: 3,732
  • Liver: 741
  • Pancreas: 101
  • Kidney/Pancreas: 155
  • Heart: 92
  • Lung: 49
  • Heart/Lung: 3
  • Intestine: 8


Where do the organs come from?

Most organ donors are people who suffer from a head injury that results in brain death. Brain death is a condition where the brain has permanently stopped working, as determined by a physician.

Artificial support systems may temporarily maintain functions such as heartbeat and breathing, but not permanently. These may be people who have had a stroke, traumatic head injury due to a car accident or fall, or a brain tumor that has not metastasized.

People over the age of 18 can register to be an organ donor.