My name is Tom O’Driscoll and I am a double organ donor (kidney/liver).
On February 18, 2022, I donated a piece of my liver to a dying young man in a surgery performed at USC – Keck Medical Center in Los Angeles.
How did I come to do this? To answer this, I must go back about 11 years. On July 13, 2010, I donated my left kidney to a stranger. I learned about altruistic kidney donation from an episode of NPR’s This American Life which featured Chaya Lipschutz. Chaya is an Orthodox Jewish woman in Brooklyn NY who donated a kidney to a stranger in 2005. She subsequently created an organization and website called “Kidney Mitzvah” to try and encourage more people to donate a kidney to needy strangers (“Mitzvah” is a Hebrew word meaning “a good deed, an action pleasing to God”).
After contacting Chaya and learning more about kidney donation, she matched me with a woman (Carolyn) that needed a kidney. I donated one of mine in 2010 in surgery performed at Cedars Sinai Hospital in LA where Carolyn lived. It was a wonderful experience and both Carolyn and I did great. Carolyn is now a friend and we share a special and unique bond. Many of my closest friends never knew about this since I have no scar from that surgery, which was done laparoscopically, and I’ve never talked about it openly until recently.
About two years ago I noticed that Chaya started talking about living liver donations on her website and Facebook page. I spoke with her about it, did my research, and decided that it was something that I wanted to do when the time was right (double organ donation is rare but not unique). I would like to have done this in Houston, but Houston Methodist and St Luke’s have a policy that organ donors must be under 55 years old (I’m a cool 58). Chaya suggested that I contact Keck. I completed their online donor form, traveled to LA for two days of tests in November (about two weeks after Ironman Florida), and had the surgery in February of 2022.
Who are my recipients? Carolyn, my kidney recipient, has polycystic kidney disease. This disease killed her mother and would have killed Carolyn without a transplant. Since our surgery over ten years ago Carolyn has done great and we have become good friends. She’s now like the little sister I never had!
Turns out my liver recipient, Ed, is Korean/American. I also met his mother who was with him at the hospital. He told me that he had been so sick for so long and was ready to give up when Keck told him that they had a match for him. He had a really good job and was doing well until his liver disease (hepatitis) progressed so much that he could not work anymore and had to go on disability. He’s excited to restart his life. Ed seems like a great guy and I’m very excited to get to know him. We are already becoming friends and I’m hopeful we’ll have a lasting relationship just like Carolyn and me.
Just think – an Irish liver in a Korean body – how great is that!
What is recovery like and are there any long-term effects? I recovered great from the kidney donation over 11 years ago and was active again in less than two months (I ran a sub-four-hour Houston Marathon that year just six months after surgery!). Since then I’ve done nine 140.6-mile Ironman triathlons, the last one in November 2021. Most people have more than double the needed blood-filtering capacity with two kidneys, so having one is no issue (God gave us two kidneys – one to keep and one to share!). About 2% of the world’s population is born with one kidney and lead totally normal lives. In fact, my maternal great-grandmother was born with one kidney, had 15 children, and lived a long, healthy life! In the unlikely event that I ever needed a new kidney, I would go straight to the top of the national recipient list. Statistics show that kidney donors actually live longer than the general population.
Liver donation is different in that the surgery is not performed laparoscopically (this may change in the future), so my recovery time was a full two months. However, the human liver regenerates after surgery. After you donate, your liver function returns to normal in two to four weeks, and your liver slowly regrows to nearly its full original volume in about two months. How amazing the human body is! I’m now back to swimming, biking and running, and training for Ironman Florida in November 2022!
Would I suggest that others become living organ donors? Indeed! Currently, about 100,000 Americans are on the national registry waiting for a kidney. Dialysis keeps these people alive, but it is brutally tough on their bodies. The average life expectancy on dialysis is 5 – 10 years. Conversely, only about 11,000 Americans are waiting for liver transplants because there is no bridge to transplantation. Once a liver stops functioning, a person dies.
I’ve decided that, like Chaya, I am going to become an advocate for living organ donation. I’m thinking that much of my focus may be with my fellow Ironman participants. If there is a more healthy and fit community of people in the country, I don’t know who they might be. And all you need to donate an organ and save a life is to be healthy and willing to give some time. There’s even an organization called the National Living Donor Assistance Center (NLDAC) that provides reimbursement of travel and subsistence expenses, lost wages, and dependent care expenses to people being evaluated for and/or undergoing living organ donation. In short, my overarching goal is to show that saving a life by becoming a living organ donor is much more realistic than most people would ever think.
If you have an interest in becoming an organ donor, contact Chaya or me (at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. I can honestly say that it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.