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The gift of life

February 26, 2016

Lung transplant recipient Tim Penstone, left, and living-liver transplant recipient Gordon Sedgewick are part of a record number of transplants performed in Edmonton in 2015.

Record-breaking 144 liver and lung transplants performed in Edmonton in 2015

Story by Sharman Hnatiuk; Photo by Sharman Hnatiuk

EDMONTON — Tim Penstone and Gordon Sedgewick freely attest that the odds were stacked against them being here today — were it not for the gift of life they received last year from living and deceased donors.

Penstone, who received a double-lung transplant in March 2015, and Sedgewick, who received a living-liver transplant from his brother this past November, have stepped forward to share their success stories as Alberta Health Services (AHS) celebrates new records set by the Edmonton transplant program.

In 2015, Edmonton surgeons performed more lung and liver transplants — including liver transplants from living donors — than ever before in the city.

Surgeons performed 61 lung transplants; the previous record of 44 was set in 2014. They performed 83 liver transplants; the previous record of 80 was set in 2007. And they also transplanted liver tissue from 22 living donors; the previous record of 16 was set in 2013.

“My transplant was absolutely a life-saving treatment,” says Sedgewick, 58. “They told me my liver wouldn’t have made it another year.”

Sedgewick was first diagnosed with hemochromatosis — a blood disorder that causes the body to retain excessive amounts of iron — in 1997. He was listed for a liver transplant in early 2015 and received a living-liver transplant in November after his brother was deemed a suitable donor.

Penstone says: “I was on oxygen full-time; it really impacted my ability to do things. Walking up the stairs was extremely difficult.”

Diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis — a chronic and ultimately fatal disease that causes swelling and scarring of the air sacs and tissue between the cells of the lungs — Penstone’s lung capacity drastically diminished over an eight-month period.

The 63-year-old had been on the waiting list for a lung transplant for four months when he got the word he could get a transplant. Today, he’s feeling healthy and is back to running his own company.

“Without a lung transplant, I may not be here today,” adds Penstone. “I owe my life to my donor.”

One deceased organ donor can provide life-saving treatment for seven people by donating lungs, heart, liver, two kidneys, pancreas and small bowel. Only one to two per cent of deaths lead to organ donation. Overall, however, one deceased tissue donor can enhance up to 80 lives by donating corneas, sclera, heart valves, skin, bone, tendons or amniotic tissue.

“While a record number of patients received life-saving liver and lung transplants last year, Albertans continue to die on the transplant list because a suitable donor was not made available,” says Dr. Kneteman, a liver transplant surgeon and Zone Clinical Section Chief for Transplant Services with AHS. “The need for organs is constant.”

All lung and liver organ transplants in Alberta are performed at the University of Alberta Hospital, the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute and the Stollery Children’s Hospital.

Albertans are urged to register their intent to donate through the Alberta Organ and Tissue Donation Registry link at myhealth.alberta.ca and to discuss their wishes with their family.