Jobs, Schwarzenegger campaign for organ donation

New legislation would create nation's first 'living donor' registry

Speaking at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Friday morning, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger stumped for a different kind of candidate -- people who need an organ transplant.

Schwarzenegger spoke in support of Senate Bill 1395, introduced by State Sen. Elaine Alquist (D-San Jose) to make organ donation easier and create the nation's first "living donor" registry.

The California Living Donor Registry would establish a database for people who want to donate a kidney while they're still living.

More than 6 million California residents are already registered as organ donors, but many more are needed, the governor said. SB 1395 would create a system by which Californians would have to choose between registering as an organ donor or not.

The choice would be made by answering a mandated "yes" or "no" question through the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) driver-license application/renewal or state ID card application process. Advocates said the process would increase donors.

Dr. Ronald Busuttil, chairman of the UCLA Department of Surgery, called the limited supply of organs "absolutely gut wrenching." Some people, especially children, die because organs just aren't available in time.

Since 2006, there has been a 14-percent decrease in overall organ donations. One-third of patients must wait three years for a suitable organ, he said.

Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs, who also appeared at the press conference, was instrumental in helping get the bill introduced, Schwarzenegger said. Jobs, a liver-transplant recipient, spoke with California First Lady Maria Shriver and Schwarzenegger about the great need for organs.

Jobs said the week of March 22 will mark his first-year anniversary since receiving a liver transplant in Memphis, Tenn. When he sought a new liver, 671 liver transplants were done in California. Out of 3,400 people who were waiting for donated livers when he received his, 400 people died.

"I was almost one of the ones that died," he said.

Schwarzenegger said that Jobs wanted to make transplants a reality for people who do not have his wealth and advantages.

"He is a wealthy man, we all know. That helped him get the transplant. But he doesn't want that -- that only wealthy people can get the transplant and have a plane waiting to take him any place he needs to go. He wants every human being -- if you have no money at all or if you're the richest person in the world -- everyone ought to have the right to get immediately a transplant," Schwarzenegger said.

More than 100,000 people in the United States and 21,000 Californians are in need of donated organs, Schwarzenegger said.

"Organ donation is one of the kindest, the simplest, most generous and most powerful actions that each and every one of us can take. When you sign up as an organ donor you are immediately armed with the power to save up to eight lives. You also have the power to heal up to 50 others by restoring their sight, improving mobility or healing burns," he said, referring to donation of one's body upon death.

Alquist, who represents the 13th Senate district, which includes San Jose, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View and Gilroy, said she authored the bill because she wanted to do something important and meaningful before she is termed out in 2012.

Brian Stewart, president of Donate Life California, a nonprofit registry for deceased-donor organ transplantation, said the organization would probably administer the living-donor registry on behalf of other organizations.

"We have some experience with large databases and protecting privacy," he said.

Getting the original deceased-donor database up and running took nine months, he said. At this time, no funding source has been established for the new registry, but he anticipates some donations will come in once the bill is passed.

The live-donor registry will focus on kidney transplants because 80 percent of all transplants involve kidneys, he said.

Three types of donation would be created through the registry:

* Direct donation, in which a living donor would provide an organ for a known transplant candidate, such as a mother donating to her daughter.

* Paired exchanges, in which the registry would assist a donor and a transplant candidate who are medically incompatible to find another pair facing the same problem and have the donors "exchange" their recipients.

* Non-directed donation, in which a donor does not have a specific recipient identified and donates to any recipient who is a good medical match.

Stewart said transplants are now done with relative ease through laparoscopic surgery, in which small incisions are made and which pose little risk to the donor. Donating a kidney does not diminish the life expectancy of the donor, he added.

Benjamin Heng donated part of his liver to his infant son, Jonathan Pareigis-Heng, just two weeks ago at the Children's Hospital, he said. The boy weighed only 1.5 pounds at birth and developed hepatal blastoma, a type of liver cancer. On March 4, facing stage 4 cancer, Jonathan received 30 percent of his father's liver.

"Giving a second life at such a low expense to myself, it makes me much more satisfied," he said. His liver will regenerate and grow back, and Jonathan's portion will also grow, he said.

Dr. Clifford Chin, head of pediatric cardiology at Lucile Packard, said the legislation could help save millions of dollars in medical costs.

Persons on a waiting list for three to five years incur huge costs for their interim medical care. But access to a greater number of organs can reduce those costs by getting organs to needy persons faster, according to Chin.

Since Schwarzenegger began in office, he has signed several pieces of organ-donation legislation.

In September 2004, he signed AB 2445, which created the Advanced Health Care Directive Registry.

An advanced health care directive lets physicians, family and friends know a person's health care preferences, including organ donation.

In October 2005, the governor signed SB 689, which established the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (UAGA) that required the DMV to collect organ-tissue donor-designation information on its application for driver licenses and identification cards.

In October 2007, he signed AB 1689, which revised the gift act to allow anatomical gifts to be used for transplantation, research, therapy and education.

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