All Heart — WC Senior Had Liver Transplant a Year Ago This Week
Swim Team Leading Organ Donation Awarenes
April 17, 2013
Galen Carrington is pictured competing in October, barely six months after having a liver transplant. Garlen and his teammates will be promoting organ donation awareness at the College this week.
Wilmington College’s swim team is leading a campus-wide effort in promoting organ donation awareness that culminates with the observance of the national organization Donate Life’s Blue & Green Day Friday (April 19). The timing has special significance as a member of the team, senior Galen Carrington, had a liver transplant a year ago this week.
Swim coach Trip Breen recalls holding Carrington’s cell phone in his pocket during practices for three years. Each time it rang or a text message appeared he checked to see if it was the swimmer’s parents alerting him that, within a matter of hours, he might be receiving a new liver.
“If that call came, time was of the essence,” Breen said. “I needed to let him know as soon as possible.”
After nearly 10 “false alarms,” Carrington got the call last April. That meant his parents were on their way to Wilmington from his home in Lawrenceburg, Ind., to take him to Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh for a liver transplant.
Carrington had Maple Syrup Urine, a disease in which his liver was unable to break down a protein called leucine.
“My level was far beyond normal — it was high enough to put some people into shock,” he said.
Doctors, who were somewhat baffled at how he was able to tolerate such high leucine levels, put him on an experimental drug as a temporary fix, but realized a liver transplant would be required for what Carrington said would be a “99 percent cure.”
“My senior year in high school, I got to the point of where I had to make that very rational decision to put my name on a liver transplant list,” he said.
Livers are not readily available and finding one that matched his rare O-negative blood type was the equivalent of winning the lottery.
Unlike organs such as kidneys, for which persons are born with two and can live healthy lives after donating one, humans have but one liver. Transplants must come from a dying person — with no chance of survival — whose organ matches that of a person on a transplant list, such as Carrington.
(LEFT) Galen Carrington
Melissa Holliday, mother of sophomore Drew Fields, lost her sister, Melodee, to a tragic accident in 1991, yet she finds comfort and peace of mind possessing the knowledge that her sister’s organs ultimately saved the lives of four persons ranging in age from one to 59 years old.
Holliday, a registered nurse, took that life-changing experience to heart and today is the organ operations director for LifeCenter Organ Donor Network in Cincinnati, which coordinates organ and tissue donation in the tri-state area.
She promotes organ donor awareness in an attempt to prevent the traumatic experience her family suffered when, upon being told that Melodee was brain dead and wouldn’t survive, “In the same sentence, we were asked about donating her organs.”
All these years later, she still believes they made the right decision, yet many families faced with the horrible reality of a loved one’s imminent death might not wish to deal with such a complicating prospect as organ donation.
“It’s so much easier for families if they know their loved one’s wishes ahead of time,” she added. “Donating your organs and tissues is a hard thing to talk about — people can become so uncomfortable talking about death — but I urge everyone, especially young people, to tell your family what your wishes are.”
Holliday vehemently rejects the idea that physicians might attempt fewer life-saving measures upon an organ donor in a grave condition so as to better accommodate a transplant.
“That’s the biggest myth I try to dispel,” she said.
“In order for organ donation to even be a possibility, the patient must have received excellent care and they must have a beating heart — yet doctors must declare them brain dead, which is very rare.”
Breen’s swim team and LifeCenter Organ Donor Network are partnering this week to increase organ and tissue donor awareness by Wilmington College students through promoting knowledge about the organ donor designation on Ohio driver’s licenses and via other opportunities (www.lifepassiton.org).
The swim team was reminded of the human value of organ donation at each practice and competition when they saw the nearly 30 inches of incision scars on Carrington’s torso, the result of the 12-hour surgery during which doctors transplanted his new liver.
“Every day our team sees the strength it must have taken Galen before the transplant to be a competitive athlete while facing a serious medical condition, and then being brave enough to have faced surgery and endured rehabilitation, and getting himself back in shape to swim competitively this year,” Breen said.
“It’s a courage we don’t know we have unless we have to face something like he did — Galen obviously has that courage.”
Carrington recalls the anxious ride to Pittsburgh last April 16.
“I was nervous and excited at the same time,” he said.
After the marathon surgery, he spent the next six weeks either in the hospital or in a nearby facility with a controlled environment to protect him from infection and, later, to commence his rehabilitation.
The surgery required severing his abdominal muscles — a key strength area for a swimmer whose specialty is the butterfly and individual medley relay, the latter of which features four swimming strokes. He was unsure whether he could swim competitively his senior year, but he knew he would give training toward that goal his best shot.
That began in his backyard pool in June.
“I was seeing what I was capable of, seeing how I felt in the water, one stroke at a time,” he recalled. “I was confident, but I didn’t know how it would feel until I started swimming at the College.
“It felt great to be back at Wilmington in August, but I knew getting into shape to compete would be the hardest challenge, the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” he added.
When the swim team opened its season Oct. 27 hosting Baldwin-Wallace, there was Carrington competing again on the intercollegiate level, just as he did for the duration of the five-month season. This spring he is playing water polo for WC’s club team.
“Nobody thought I’d be coming back this year because of the condition I was in, but I’ve always been a very determined individual. I try not to let anything stop me from accomplishing my dreams.”