Success Stories

Organ Donation Helps Individuals Reach Their Potential

Just ask Mike DiPiano and Stuart Geffner, M.D.

For Mike DiPiano, Athletic Director at St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark, a complication of diabetes he developed during adolescence led to kidney failure and the need for dialysis treatments three times a week. After two years of dialysis, a stranger’s untimely death provided the 48-year-old husband and father of three teenagers with the opportunity for a simultaneous pancreas-kidney transplant at Saint Barnabas Medical Center. Today, Mike heightens community awareness by speaking to adult and student groups about giving the gift of life. “I would do anything anyone asked of me to spread this message,” says Mike. “I owe it to the people who are sick and the family that donated their loved one’s organs for me.”

For Stuart Geffner, M.D., Director of Transplant Surgery at RWJBarnabas Health, accepting the status quo is unacceptable. Board certified in surgery and fellowship-trained in transplant surgery, Dr. Geffner has performed numerous “medical firsts” in New Jersey, including renal transplantation on the youngest pediatric patient in the state as well as the first laparoscopic kidney donation. “The work we do and the opportunities we provide our patients are the result of the courage and generosity of our donor families,” he says.

Reward Far Greater than Struggle For Living Kidney Donor and Recipient Husband

When Robert Orange opened the door to his local church in Jersey City on a fall evening back in 1998, he came face-to-face with a person who would change his life forever.

According to Mr. Orange, it was “love-at-first-sight” when he encountered his future wife, Cherie, on her way out of Christ the King Church. “I just knew I had to get to know this woman. Little did I know that she was going to impact my life the way she has. I am a very blessed man.”

From that day on, Mr. and Mrs. Orange were inseparable and the couple ultimately married in October of 2000. At the time, Mr. Orange, 51, was suffering from high blood pressure and heart disease. His kidneys had failed after a heart attack six years earlier, which necessitated him being placed on dialysis. Like many dialysis patients, Mr. Orange would spend three days a week for four hours a day at a dialysis center in Jersey City. While he kept up his spirits, just happy to have found his soul mate, being on dialysis for nearly 10 years was taking its toll on his physical health. His physicians at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, an affiliate of RWJBarnabas Health, listed him on the renal transplant registry. He and Mrs. Orange realized a transplant was his only hope for living a longer, more productive life.

“One day on our way home from dialysis, Cherie announced she was detouring to Newark Beth so she could be tested as a living donor. I was shocked and thrilled at the same time. I was happy that she was willing to do this for me, but I didn’t want to get too excited because it was a long shot that we would be compatible,” Mr. Orange said.

Added Mrs. Orange, “For a while, even before I met Robert, I had been wondering what my purpose in life would be. After meeting and marrying him, the idea of family took on a whole new meaning. I prayed on it. I knew I had to do all I could for him. He is my husband and I take my marriage vows seriously. I wanted Robert to have a better quality of life.”

Fortunately for Mr. Orange, his wife was a match. On February 27, 2003, he received her kidney. Stuart Geffner, M.D., led the surgical team removing Mrs. Orange’s left kidney. In the adjacent operating room, Steven Guy, M.D., prepared Mr. Orange to receive his wife’s kidney. The donor nephrectomy was performed laparoscopically. Four hours later, the couple was in recovery. Mrs. Orange stayed in the hospital for two days, while her husband remained as an inpatient for five days.

“Preparing for the surgery was made easier by all the information and support we received from the renal transplant coordinators, physicians and social worker. We were educated and kept up-todate every step of the way,” Mr. Orange said.

According to Carmen Flores, RN, transplant coordinator, thorough screening of prospective living kidney donors and recipients as well as extensive counseling from social workers is customary. Donors must also understand the extent of the operation and that organs must be donated without the expectation or any form of compensation.

Eighteen months later, the couple find themselves back at the dialysis center on a regular basis. Only now, they are there to speak with patients, their family members and friends about the Living Donor Program at the Renal and Pancreas Transplant Center at Newark Beth Israel. According to Mrs. Orange, her husband “is a super advocate for organ donation. Everywhere he goes, he tells our story – even in the supermarket.”

“It’s our calling. This is our way of giving back for all our good fortune, for all the friends we have made and for all blessings we have received. Cherie and I know what has happened to us is all part of a bigger plan and we’ll do whatever we can to help others,” Mr. Orange said.

Living Donation Creates a “Dream Come True” for Active Teen

Father and Daughter, Fred and Tristia Cosgrove

When Tristia Cosgrove of Jefferson Township was 11 years old, her mother brought her to the family pediatrician with flu-like symptoms. Tests revealed her kidneys were failing, a result of having been born with a malformed renal system. Tristia’s parents, Fred and Pat, were struck with fear. “It was brutal to hear that news — one of the hardest things we’ve ever had to take,” says Mr. Cosgrove. Tristia immediately began hemodialysis and soon experienced numerous infections, missing a few hours of school two days each week, and spending Saturdays at the dialysis center. Her parents, along with the Saint Barnabas Pediatric Nephrology and Transplantation Team, began planning for a living donor kidney transplant that would release Tristia from the limitations dialysis imposed on her previously carefree childhood. Five months after her diagnosis, Tristia and her father underwent surgery that transplanted Mr. Cosgrove’s kidney into his little girl. Despite rejections and complications, the Pediatric Transplant Team reversed the rejections, and Tristia rebounded with her family rallying around her. At age 13, Tristia continues to maintain the donated kidney with no additional problems and eventually withdrew from the insulin injections she required to treat her diabetes. “It was all worth it,” says Mr. Cosgrove smiling at his daughter

So Much More Living to Do

Ida and Silvio Poggi

Despite being told by one doctor that she was too old for a kidney transplant, at age 73, Ida Poggi, of New Providence, N.J., persisted in exploring the transplant alternative. For most of her life Mrs. Poggi had enjoyed good health. She was dedicated to her children, managed the household and worked for more than two decades for a medical supplies manufacturer. At age 69, she was enjoying retirement and the blessings of five grandchildren when suddenly a series of severe infections damaged her kidneys. During two years of weekly treatments at the dialysis center, 12 friends on dialysis died from end-stage renal disease and its complications. Mrs. Poggi knew she had much more living to do. Nurses at the dialysis center encouraged her pursuit of a renal transplant and assisted her in coordinating the battery of tests required by everyone seeking organ transplantation. When the telephone call came on that warm June morning in 1995 revealing that a compatible organ was available, Mrs. Poggi was ready – physically and emotionally. The change in Mrs. Poggi’s condition following the transplant was dramatic. When she woke from surgery she recalls immediately giving her son the thumbs up sign. Today, at 78 years of age, she continues to walk up to two miles every day and enjoys an active life with family and friends.

A Year Older, a Year Wiser, A Year Closer to Renewed Health

Fletcher Blevins, seated, is joined by, from left, Luis Arroyo, M.D., Patricia Skerko, L.C.S.W., Carmen Flores, R.N.C., and Sandi Bausback-Aballo, R.N., C.C.T.C.

For 62-year-old Fletcher Blevins of Newark, a simultaneous heart and kidney transplant at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center was the best birthday present he could have received. On July 6, 1999, Mr. Blevins was the second patient to undergo a simultaneous heart and kidney transplant at the Medical Center. “Mr. Blevins has been a true inspiration to all of us here at Newark Beth Israel,” says Carmen Flores, R.N., Transplant Coordinator. “Little more than 10 years ago, most people with end stage renal disease received hemodialysis with no knowledge about any other treatment option. Transplantation was rarely discussed because the criteria for being listed as a transplant candidate were stringent. And a simultaneous transplantation procedure would have been out of the question,” she emphasizes. “Fortunately, the progress in the field of transplantation has been astounding. Mr. Blevins is greatly admired by our staff because of his sense of humor, friendliness and willingness to do what it takes to renew his health. I’m delighted that we were able to provide Mr. Blevins with the greatest advances in transplantation technology.”

A Shared Kidney Brightens One Couple’s Retirement

Al and Ann Ransegnola enjoy spending time with some of their grandchildren.

Al and Ann Ransegnola of Denville dreamed of a carefree retirement. Mr. Ransegnola who had been diagnosed with chronic glomerulonephritis at age 21, had led an active life, married, raised four children, and was a dedicated science teacher for 32 years at Union Township Junior High School. However, when the symptoms of kidney disease made it difficult to continue working, Mr. Ransegnola retired at age 55. Two years later, he suffered a heart attack. “After bypass surgery, my doctor said not to worry about my heart, but that I better turn my attention to my kidneys. They were deteriorating rapidly,” he explains. When dialysis became necessary, the Ransegnolas met with a nurse at the dialysis center and Mrs. Ransegnola took a worn newspaper article about spouses acting as living kidney donors from her wallet and showed it to the nurse. Over the years she had shown the article to other health care professionals. “That nurse was the first person who listened to me,” says Mrs. Ransegnola. Within months, Mr. and Mrs. Ransegnola underwent the donor and transplant surgeries at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. In the three years since Mr. Ransegnola’s renal transplant, the couple has been enjoying the retirement they dreamed of.

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