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Hospital Honors Local Organ Donors, Recipients

UPMC McKeesport urges residents to consider organ donation

By Staff Reports
The Tube City Almanac
April 07, 2022
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

Jeffrey Alvarez, nursing director at UPMC McKeesport, liver transplant recipient Gene Wagner and Leslie Lash of the Center for Organ Recovery & Education display a flag for “National Donate Life Month.” In 2021, the hospital facilitated transplants of four life-saving organs, 32 corneas and more than 1,000 tissues. (Tube City Almanac photo)

Gene Wagner of North Huntingdon Twp. isn’t sure how he contracted non-alcoholic cirrhosis, which began destroying his liver.

But he’s sure of one thing: He must have had a guardian angel looking out for him.

Wagner, who received a partial liver transplant from a living donor in 2021 at UPMC Montefiore hospital in Oakland, said the entire process had too many strange coincidences to be merely fate.

Wagner joined UPMC McKeesport staff on Thursday for a celebration to mark the beginning of National Donate Life Month.

Last year, UPMC McKeesport facilitated the transplant of four life-saving organs, 32 corneas and more than 1,000 tissues, said Leslie Lash, who serves as the hospital’s liaison to the O’Hara Twp.-based Center for Organ Recovery & Education.

“To the UPMC McKeesport leadership and the entire health care team, you are a critical part of the donaton and transplantion process,” Lash told the audience in the hospital’s courtyard. “Please know how truly thankful CORE is for all you have done, and all you do every day.”

Wagner, who is currently on disability leave from his job as a physical therapist at UPMC McKeesport, is thankful, too. He went to the McKeesport emergency room in August 2020 with pain that turned out to be pancreatitis.

But in the process of diagnosing that illness, doctors discovered three cancerous tumors in Wagner’s liver. Without treatment, he was told, his chance of surviving another five years was zero. He was referred to another UPMC specialist who recommended a partial-liver transplant from a living donor.

As it turned out, a woman in Cleveland, Ohio, had put herself on the partial-liver donor list when a child at her church became ill and needed a transplant.

While she wasn’t a match for that patient, she was a match for Wagner.

Wagner had surgery in May 2021 and met his donor later that year.

Although many partial-liver donors are relatives of the recipients, Wagner’s donor “did this completely altruistically,” he said. “And even though she lives in Cleveland now, she used to live in Monroeville, in the same neighborhood as my wife. I’ve driven past her house hundreds of times and never knew her.

“Which only confirms my theory that she must be an angel,” Wagner said. “Lots of times people think things, say things, write things, but she actually did something. She saved my life.”

Leslie Lash of CORE and Dr. Brandy Hershberger, chief nursing officer at UPMC McKeesport and UPMC East, watch as the “donate life” flag is raised over the hospital’s courtyard. (Tube City Almanac photo)

Lash said that National Donate Life Month is designed to highlight positive stories such as Wagner’s, and to emphasize the need for more Americans to consider organ donation.

Across the United States, up to 100,000 people are waiting for an organ transplant, while 250,000 are waiting for a transplant of tissue or a cornea, according to CORE. About 20 people die each day while awaiting a donor organ that is unavailable.

CORE is one of 57 federally designated non-profit organizations that connect organ donors with transplant recipients. The organization partners with more than 150 hospitals and health care facilities.

“CORE’s lifesaving mission is about saving the lives of people waiting for a transplant,” Lash said. “To carry out this mission we depend on the support of the entire community. As long as there are people who continue to wait for a second chance at life, we will continue to work every day.”

UPMC McKeesport employees paused for more than a minute yesterday as a “Donate Life” was raised over the hospital’s courtyard. A similar ceremony will take place next week at UPMC East hospital in Monroeville.

Lash encouraged everyone in attendance to consider becoming an organ donor, and to talk to their family and friends about the value of organ donation.

“Together we are saving and healing lives,” she said.


(Tube City Almanac photo)

Originally published April 07, 2022.

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