Peggy Applewhite and Phil Van Stavern are two people who not only know how vital a donated organ is, they believe in the cause so much, they’ve dedicated their lives to educating others and making sure those who need organs are cared for.

Typically, most people don’t think about the issue of organ donation that much. They may see the occasional newspaper article advertising a bake sale or charity event to raise money for someone waiting for a new liver or a heart. It comes up every few years or so when they renew their driver’s license and are asked if they want to be a donor.

But until they, or someone close to them, are faced with the prospect of needing an organ to save their life, it’s just someone else’s issue.

Peggy Applewhite and Phil Van Stavern are two people who not only know how vital a donated organ is, they believe in the cause so much, they’ve dedicated their lives to educating others and making sure those who need organs are cared for.

Peggy Applewhite, from Bryson, Texas, is the daughter-in-law of Ardmore resident Erma Applewhite and received a new liver less than two years ago. On April 29, she visited residents at the Ardmore Village Creative Living Center to talk about organ donation. Although she works in her family’s oil-and-gas business, Applewhite serves as a volunteer for the Dallas Health Center, a Methodist hospital in Oakcliff. She acts as a transplant mentor for the liver institute, visiting patients who have undergone transplants and those who are still on the waiting list.

Van Stavern, on the other hand, is a 20-year kidney recipient who is now the marketing and communications director for LifeShare Transplant Donor Services of Oklahoma, a donor registry and organ procurement organization dedicated to helping Oklahomans who need organs.

Both understand first-hand the need for more donated organs, and hope to educate the public and strike down any misconceptions about the process for those still trying to decide.

According to information provided by both, in 2007, there were 28,355 transplants performed nationally, 22,048 from deceased donors and 6,037 from living donors, who can donate one of their kidneys or even a lobe of lung.

In Oklahoma, currently there are 622 people waiting for all organs, with the majority waiting for kidneys. Nineteen on the list are awaiting kidney-pancreas transplants.
Every 13 minutes, there’s a new name added to the national waiting list. Sadly, though, an average of 18 folks every day die because an organ wasn’t available, Applewhite said.

Many people have moral or religious issues about donating their organs. Applewhite said those issues will never be resolved, so it’s better to educate people using real-life statistics, showing who is affected when an organ is or is not available.

Applewhite said a donation can save or enhance up to 50 lives. Fifty people benefit from organs and tissue donated by a single person.

Organs that can be donated include the heart, liver, intestines, lung, kidney and pancreas. Tissues include heart valves, bones, skin, eyes and tendons.

“I’m so happy that the technology has brought us to this point,” Applewhite said. “I’m only able to speak here today because of that technology.”

Applewhite was diagnosed with Hepatitis C and shortly afterward developed “end-stage liver disease,” which she said is the end of the road. The only way to continue to live is with a new liver. Luckily, she found one.

Van Stavern had kidney disease from the time he was a child and, as an adult, had to undergo a kind of dialysis called “continuous-cycling peritoneal dialysis” which is done in the home at night. Eventually, his brother donated a kidney so Van Stavern could have a healthy life.

“The changes in me were almost immediate,” Van Stavern said. “Within a matter of weeks, my energy level doubled. I only had one episode of rejection early on, but it was taken care of early.

“There are so many waiting for kidney transplants because there is a way to keep those folks alive when the organ fails (dialysis),” Van Stavern said. “With other organs, it’s a critical issue at the time of the organ failure. The good thing is, when we recover a kidney from a donor patient, we recover two.”

But, even with that, the number of organs that can be used is not enough to meet the demand.

“The important thing I would like for you to remember about deciding about being a donor is to talk it over with your family. Talk to your family. Don’t talk about death; talk about life. Talk about giving life,” Applewhite said.

New legislation ensures a donor’s wishes are carried out, regardless of what relatives may think.

“There was a time when we approached the family, even if we had a driver’s license or a donor card in our hand,” he said. “We have passed legislation in Oklahoma that is called ‘first-person consent.’ That says if you record that consent on a driver’s license or online, that is considered legal consent.”

There are several facilities in Oklahoma where transplants are performed.
INTEGRIS in Oklahoma City, which houses the Nazih Zudhi Transplant Institute, is the only comprehensive transplant center, which can do any and all kinds of transplants.
There are two kidney transplant centers in Tulsa –– St. John Medical Center and St. Francis Hospital. In Oklahoma City, St. Anthony Hospital does kidney transplants, and the OU Medical Center can perform kidney and kidney-pancreas transplants. And the Dean McGee Eye Institute has a corneal transplant unit.

There is no cost to become an organ donor. The only cost is to the recipient and the recipient organ is generally paid for by the patient’s insurance company. Most transplants are non-emergency transplants and there is time to get the insurance portion worked out before the transplant takes place.

Practically, anyone can be an organ donor. There are age and health criteria, and a doctor can help an individual decide if they are a good candidate.'

At 49 percent, Oklahoma is second in the nation in terms of the percentage of people who hold a registry as an organ donor, behind only Utah at 70 percent donor. Van Stavern said that works out to 1.75 million Oklahomans registered out of a population of 3.6 million.

“We’ve been working hard for a long time to educate people about organ donation and they’ve responded to that,” he said. “It really has a lot to do with the nature of the people in the state.”

Van Stavern said that during the time of the Alfred P. Murrah Building bombing, there was talk nationally about the “Oklahoma Standard” of compassion and help that the state’s citizens poured out in the crisis situation. He said the number of people willing to donate their organs indicates to him that same attitude of the “Oklahoma Standard” that was described at that time.