December 15, 2003

Living organ donation a gift for patients, employees

By Annie Haas

SunTrust Bank employee Terry Sherer never imagined she would be an organ donor--that is, until she took a business trip with co-worker Shawna Rankins.

"When Shawna told me she needed a new kidney, I volunteered to be tested," Sherer said. "But she thought I was kidding, and it took me a few times to convince her I was serious.

"When Shawna gave me the information I needed, I contacted the kidney transplant specialist at the Emory kidney transplant program who was assisting Shawna," she continued. "They were quick to set up the necessary appointments and begin the testing process."

After extensive testing, physicians at the Emory Transplant Center told Sherer she was a match for Rankins.

"I immediately called Shawna with the good news," she said. "We were able to pick a surgery date that worked well for both of our schedules.

"We went in for surgery on Friday and I was home on Monday," Sherer said. "I was fully recovered in three months; however, in just one week I was back to doing light chores. Fortunately, I had enough sick time accrued to be able to take the time off needed for recovery, which totaled about three weeks."

But if she had to do it over again, even with no vacation time, she would.

"I would do it again tomorrow," said Sherer.

Luckily, University and Emory Healthcare (EHC) employees don't have to use comprehensive leave or extended leave in order to donate an organ. In September, a "living donor leave policy" was created as part of employees' compensation package.

All regular full-time and regular part-time employees are eligible for the benefit. The amount of time off requested will be based on an individual's medical need for recuperation; time off under this policy will not decrease the employee's comprehensive or extended illness leave balance.

Employees are eligible for four work weeks' paid leave for solid organ donation (at the Emory Transplant Center, this means the kidney or part of the liver; other centers around the country transplant other organs) and one day's paid leave for bone marrow donation. Employees are required to complete the appropriate paperwork for this leave and also to give 30 days' advance notice (when feasible).

"This new policy entitles eligible employees, whose organs are a match for someone on a transplant waiting list, to take time off for the surgery and recovery, without suffering loss of income, employment status, length of service or benefits," said Peg Bloomquist, senior director for EHC human resources.

Last year, the Woodruff Health Sciences Center (WHSC) joined Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson's campaign, "Workplace Partnership for Life," and 3,500 other organizations and corporations to build awareness of the need for the donated organs.

"Emory Healthcare and Emory University have taken their commitment to [the campaign] a whole new level with the incorporation of living donor leave into employees' benefit package," said Jennie Perryman, director, public policy and external affairs, Emory Transplant Center. "Emory employees who qualify and elect to donate a part of themselves, while living, to help another will no longer need to use their own comprehensive or extended illness time while recovering."

This benefit comes at a time when there are approximately 1,411 men, women and children on organ transplant center waiting lists in Georgia. Those include 1,144 waiting for kidney transplants, and 219 await a new liver. The wait for an organ transplant often exceeds two years. Perryman said Emory is the largest private employer in Georgia (and second only to the state itself) to offer this benefit.

The personal rewards for living organ donation can be extraordinary--just ask Michael Johns, executive vice president for health affairs and director of the WHSC. In 1980, Johns' youngest brother was diagnosed with incurable leukemia, and a bone marrow transplant was the only hope. Johns was a perfect match.

"It never occurred to me that I would do anything but be his donor," Johns said. "Any chance to contribute to his life being saved was top of my list."

After a first transplant in 1980 and then a second one four years later, Johns' brother has lived for 18 years without a recurrence. "While I was concerned about the donation," Johns said, "just thinking about my brother facing death removed any fear I had."

If you would like more information about living donations, contact the Emory Transplant Center at 404-712-4444.

This article first appeared in the Emory Healthcare newsletter and is reprinted with permission.