Wheeling Hospital recognizes transplant recipients at Donate Life event

Celebrating Donate Life Month at Wheeling Hospital are, from left, Kayla Gray, professional service liaison for the Center for Organ Recovery & Education; double lung transplant recipient Amanda Jenkins of St. Clairsville; Heidi Porter, the hospital’s director of quality management; liver transplant recipient Todd Hood of Wheeling and Lisa Strother-Upsher, CORE community outreach coordinator. Hood, who works at Wheeling Hospital, donated the Donate Life flag to the hospital. Photo by Linda Comins

WHEELING — A Donate Life flag-raising ceremony Wednesday at Wheeling Hospital had special meaning for two area residents who are organ transplant recipients.

The flag was given by Todd Hood, a Wheeling man who underwent a liver transplant four years ago. Amanda Jenkins, a St. Clairsville woman who received a double lung transplant two years ago, also participated in the ceremony.

Wheeling Hospital coordinated the event with the Center for Organ Recovery & Education of Pittsburgh to raise awareness about organ, tissue and cornea donation and to inspire people to register as organ donors. April is designated as Donate Life Month.

Hood, who was sick for about six years, was placed on a transplant list in February 2015. He said that during his illness, Dr. Thomas Dorsey “kept me alive here.” He received a donor liver on June 1, 2015 at the Cleveland Clinic.

“I’m doing very well,” he said. Hood is “absolutely” thankful for organ donors.

“If it weren’t for donors, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” he said.

He bought the Donate Life flag and donated it to the hospital with the hope that its presence will inspire people to register as potential organ donors.

“If a person changes their mind from having this conversation, it would be perfect,” he said.

Hood went back to work as a painter in Wheeling Hospital’s facilities department last October. He said his return was delayed because of medical complications unrelated to the transplant.

Jenkins underwent a double lung transplant on Feb. 13, 2017 at UPMC in Pittsburgh. She had been on a transplant list for 13 months before undergoing surgery.

Her own lungs had been damaged by cystic fibrosis, a condition that was diagnosed when she was 4 weeks old. Since the transplant, she said, “I no longer have it (cystic fibrosis) in the lungs.”

Jenkins, now 36, said cystic fibrosis has affected her pancreas and sinuses, but will not damage the donated lungs. She is doing well after the transplant and plans to resume her career.

“I was a nurse prior to getting sick,” she said. “I’ve reapplied for my nursing license. I want to get a master’s degree and hopefully teach nursing.”

Previously, Jenkins lived in Charleston, where she worked as a nurse doing home visits for a hospice program. Her husband Richard Jenkins is a nurse in Wheeling Hospital’s intensive care unit. He was a great help during her recovery from surgery.

“It’s nice to have your own personal nurse,” she quipped.

Jenkins said she is grateful for her donor, who also was from St. Clairsville.

“I didn’t know her personally,” she said.

She has been introduced to her donor’s best friend, but hasn’t met the donor’s family.

“They’re not ready to meet yet,” Jenkins said.

Prospective donors can register online at core.org/register and indicate their wishes on their drivers’ licenses.

Ironically, Hood was at the Department of Motor Vehicles office in Moundsville when he got the first call that a possible donor liver had been found for him. He said a DMV employee let him go ahead of other customers so that he could get on the road to Cleveland quickly. En route, however, he received a call to turn back because the liver wasn’t viable for transplant.

“A week later, I got the second call,” he said. That donated liver was transplanted into him successfully.

Nationally, 115,000 people are waiting for an organ transplant, including 2,500 in western Pennsylvania and West Virginia, according to CORE. At least 20 will die each day without receiving the transplant they need. A patient is added to the transplant waiting list every 10 minutes.

Each year, about 11,000 people who were considered medically suitable to donate organs, tissue and corneas die, yet only a fraction donated. Anyone can be a potential donor regardless of age, race or medical history.