Organ and tissue donation light in a tragedy

SHERMAN, TX -- An estimated 100,000 Americans are waiting for an organ or tissue transplant including more than 7,000 Texans, and every 10 minutes another name is added to the list. Kristen Shanahan spoke with one man who was on that list she tells us how his transplant impacted his life in an unexpected way.

The group Donate Life America says the majority of Americans support donation, but only 30 percent of them know the essential steps it takes to be a donor.

One young man's father gave a complete stranger a new chance at life and his own son the gift of friendship.

December 22, 2007 is a date Brandon Witt will never forget. His step-father Thomas Pettit fell from a ladder while chopping firewood for another family.

"It took me a second to realize I needed to call 911, and it felt like a eternity before the paramedics showed up, and they did a great job getting to him and doing what they could, but it just wasn't enough," Witt said.

Witt says when his family was told Pettit had died they had just minutes to decide whether to donate his tissues, but their difficult and quick decision will forever impact the lives of 80 people who benefitted from the donation. One of those people baseball player Joey Ianiero blew out his knee during a game and thought his career was over.

"I really don't think that without the tendon I wouldn't be able to play again," Ianiero said.

Grateful for the donation that enabled Joey to play again his mother wrote a thank you note to Brandon's family. A note that led Brandon to find Joey on Facebook where they made an instant connection.

"For me to hear from Joey and hear the change it's made, and the amount of people that dad's affected. It really calms any kind of worries you had before that," Witt said.

Brandon says it would make his stepfather proud to know he changed so many lives for the better.

"This is meant to happen. Like Joey and I said there's to many things, you know the play for him had to happen where hurt his knee, the accident for me had to happen, the right people had to hear the story for everything about this to happen," Witt said.

"If my doctor didn't suggest getting a donor tendon, if my mom wouldn't have written the note, if he wouldn't have added me on Facebook, if I wouldn't have accepted his friend request," Ianiero said.

Donna Drury, Executive Director of UT Southwestern's Transplant Services, says Brandon and Joey's story is inspirational and shows how good can come out of a tragedy. She says stories like theirs help people not only understand the importance of organ and tissue donations, but the difference between the two.

"Organ donors have to be on a ventilator so they have to be either have to be brain dead, or very close to brain death, but with tissues that's not required so someone who dies for instance in the emergency room still has the potential for tissue donation," Drury said.

Drury says both types of transplants can enhance and save lives, but time is vital in both operations. She says with tissues there is only a 12 to 24 hour window in which they can transplant.

"The decision does have to be made shortly after death. We are usually talking to the families shortly after death and that's because we have to," Drury said.

Brandon says after all he has learned, and seeing how his dad's helped others, even after his death the decision should be easy.

"You don't know what tomorrow brings, and you know you never know if your going to get that extra day. So if you have the opportunity to help someone else my question is, why not," Brandon said.

If you want to become a donor you can sign up at your local drivers license bureau or online at donatelife.net


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