Colorado’s living organ donors celebrated as heroes for saving lives

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DENVER – Colorado is home to hundreds of everyday heroes who are responsible for saving lives through organ donation.

“Colorado is very unique in that we have a relatively high proportion of what we call ‘altruistic non-directed,’ a person who has no one in particular in mind that they want to donate to, but they just want to do something to help someone who is in need of an organ,” Dr. Elizabeth Pomfret told FOX31.

Pomfret is the chief of transplantation at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital. The facility is the largest transplant center in the state and ninth-largest in the country.

“The number of people who die waiting is pretty significant,” Pomfret said. “We could see up to 15 or 20 percent of the people waiting [for a liver] die each year, so it’s pretty staggering numbers.”

There are currently 1,401 Coloradans on the waitlist for a kidney and 244 for a liver. However, there are not enough deceased donors to provide all of the organs. Living donors help make up the difference.

“We spend so much time focusing on negative things that it’s really wonderful that I can spend almost all of my time with people who represent the best of humanity,” Pomfret said.

Thursday night, UCHealth hosted its annual “Night of Champions” gala celebrating the life-saving gifts the living donors have given.

“There is no award or honor that you could give to a donor that would be sufficient. They have given a life,” Pomfret said.

While the donors receive a special medal, they agree the only thing they really want is to know their recipients are healthy.

“Everybody always asks me ‘Why?’ And so my favorite response now is, ‘Why not?’,” Michelle Hall said. “For me, it’s a moment in time versus somebody else, it’s their lifetime.”

Hall became a living liver donor in April 2018 when she donated a portion of her liver to a baby. She is considered an altruistic non-directed donor because she volunteered her organ despite not knowing the recipient.

“I call her ‘Liver Baby’ and I’m sure she has a better name than that,” Hall said.

She has not met her recipient and may never get the chance to. Hall says she is just thankful to know the little girl will get the chance to grow up.

“To see her walk and talk and do all the things that now a 3-whatever-year-old should do, that’d be pretty awesome,” Hall said.

Hall has already added herself to the kidney donation list. It is extremely rare for a living donor to give both a kidney and a portion of their liver. UCHealth has performed operations for just eight double-donors.

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