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Replacement organs sought

Paul Imbruglio, 45, learned he has more patience than he ever thought he had. What he needs is a liver.

The South Lake Tahoe man represents one in 17,207 waiting for a liver on the United Network for Organ Sharing list, the nonprofit national organ procurement center run out of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The list of people waiting for organs overall has recently topped 75,000, a benchmark that caused officials to step up a plea for organ donations.



In comparison, the waiting list at the end of 1990 consisted of 20,481 people.

Imbruglio has waited for two years for a healthy liver.




“The waiting is the worst part,” he said, remaining optimistic. “But it’ll happen.”

To offset the waiting, he reads Richard Carlson’s book “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.”

In the meantime, he relies on a list of medications to stabilize him. He suffers from hepatitis C and encephalopathy, a side effect of a failing liver.

“Most people, if they felt the way I do when they got up in the morning, they’d call an ambulance,” he said.

There are times he forgets why he walked from one room to another, suffers from severe cramps and can lose up to 15 pounds in 24 hours, he said.

He spent most of January in the hospital.

“I thought I had every test imaginable, but there’s always another one,” he said.

When his liver comes in, he’s chosen the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco as the site for the transplant, which will cost $492,000 and take six hours to perform.

Of the handful of hospitals in California that perform transplant operations, Sutter Memorial Hospital in Sacramento and University of California, Davis, are the closest to South Lake Tahoe.

Transplant criteria questions include: -Will the transplant prolong life?-Is the patient healthy enough to survive an operation?-Can the patient pay for the operation?-Does the patient have cancer or AIDS?

Transplants are denied on cancer and AIDS patients.

“The sickest person should get it,” Imbruglio said, sharing his philosophy.

Much of Imbruglio’s inspiration lies with a support group that meets at the Carson-Tahoe Hospital, where he learned not to get upset and lose control.

He’s also thankful for help from OPEN, Ordinary People with Extraordinary Needs. The group has offered to pay some expenses.

Medical and Medicare – the California and federal government’s health insurance program for the poor and disabled, respectively – will pick up the tab for the operation.

Until then, the former chef hopes his kidneys hold out, a common setback in his situation.

Imbruglio believes there wouldn’t be an organ shortage if UNOS was able to expedite transplants based on presumed consent.

Currently, the question is asked on every states’ driver’s license applications. This question is followed up by a request for permission given by the donor family.

“There’s no federal legislation that dictates presumed consent,” said John Nelson, the HHS director of the Health Resources and Services Administration.

Nelson said it’s sometimes difficult to expect family members to give consent when they’re grieving the loss of a loved one.

“Most Americans believe organ donation is good, but only half will actually do it,” he said.

Even so, the number of those people who elect to do so increases 2 percent every year, Nelson said.

This number is offset by those waiting for organs, which have increased by 10 percent each year, he added.

Of those on the UNOS waiting list, 48,162 are waiting for kidneys; 4,236 for hearts; 3,736 for lungs; and 2,456 for both kidneys and pancreas.

In light of the shortage, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson has said he will develop a plan to help boost donations by this spring.

And the House of Representatives passed legislation two weeks ago to encourage living and cadaveric organ donation.

An average of 15 people die every day waiting for an organ that could have saved their lives, according to UNOS.

“In a way, we’ve become a victim of our own success,” UNOS President Patricia Adams said. “With the success and acceptance of organ transplantation, it has become routine therapy for many diseases. We have the know-how to save tens of thousands of lives. What we don’t have is enough donated organs to make it possible.”


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