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How to save lives: sign up to be an organ donor

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Erin Jones 

Staff Writer

Katie Hawkins Beall, Chancellor Jack Hawkins’ daughter, detailed her struggle with liver failure in a presentation encouraging people to become organ donors. 

In the Sept. 19 seminar, “My Transplant Story: the Importance of Becoming an Organ Donor,” Beall described grappling with an infection from her gallbladder removal, which made her develop kidney failure.

Beall initially thought she had an intestinal infection, but while she was on a field trip with her daughter, another parent on the trip had just been through the same thing with her husband and began to notice the symptoms within Beall. 

Beall quickly went to the hospital at the other parent’s suggestion and was admitted immediately.

The next morning, Beall was sent to the transplant unit of the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, where she was told she had gone into full “heart, kidney and liver failure.”

They conducted the MELD (Model for End-Stage Liver Disease) test on Beall, and within a few weeks of her being admitted, tests showed she only had about two days before she would have slipped into a coma that doctors wouldn’t be able to bring her back from. 

Beall also went through dialysis because her heart ejection rate, which measures how much blood is being pumped from the heart, was only at 20 percent. After the first round of dialysis, doctors were able to bring the ejection rate up to 80 percent, which made her eligible to undergo a liver transplant. 

Beall was placed on a waiting list for six days. 

“I knew I had hours left to live, but I also knew that someone had to die in order for me to live, and that is a sobering reality,” Beall said.

One donor did appear, however, when a 32-year-old Baltimore resident died of a heroin overdose. Luckily for Beall, he survived long enough to make it to an operating room, which made the organ transplant possible.

Beall had also received word her transplant and future transplants would be 100 percent covered, which is practically unheard of. A liver transplant can cost half a million dollars, so Beall and her family were very grateful to receive this news. 

The transplant was conducted on Nov. 14, 2017. Beall now takes about 15 different medications to protect her liver and keep it stable and has to visit a doctor once a week for blood testing. Her donor’s liver was considered “high-risk,” not because he overdosed, but primarily because it was subjected to diseases like HIV and hepatitis. 

Beall wrote a letter to the donor’s family thanking them for their sacrifice. She doesn’t know if he made the decision to become an organ donor or if his mother made it for him, but she is grateful.

“We have to remember that the saddest day of their life was the greatest day of our life,” Beall said.

Beall encouraged everyone in the audience to be an organ donor.

“You’re not going to know what happens when you die, and you certainly can’t take (your organs) with you,” she said.

According to Beall, about 22 people die every day waiting on an organ, and 150,000 have to be on the waiting list every year.“I want everyone to sign up (to be an organ donor),” Beall said. “Look at me and look that I’m a mom, I’m a wife, we’re still active-duty military, I’m a daughter, a sister, I’m alive.

“Otherwise, I had probably less than 24 hours if somebody hadn’t donated their liver.”

Anyone who wants to become a donor can sign up at www.organdonor.gov.