Caring/Sandra Lee Breisch
Dr. Berry, a transplant recipient, helps others get the gift of life
When Phil H. Berry Jr., MD, an orthopaedic surgeon, made his installation speech as president of the Texas Medical Association (TMA) in May 1997, he stressed "the importance of the doctor-patient relationship" and "how well he could identify with both sides of that equation."
Briefly, he spoke about having contracted the hepatitis B virus from a patient he operated on in 1983. His wife also acquired the virus, but got well. Dr. Berry awaited a liver transplant. At that time, he wondered, "Was there someone who had enough love in their hearts to give me the ëgift of life?í"
Then, Dr. Berry introduced his donor family to the audience: the parents of the 30-year-old housewife and mother of a six-year-old boy who had died. Her liver was now keeping him alive. "There was not a dry eye in the room," he recalls.
It was at that point that he asked the TMA to implement a statewide organ and tissue donor initiative called "Live and Then Give". The program was well received by the 35,000 TMA members and the Texas Medical Association Alliance of 9,000 spouses. Although only one-half of the membership indicated that they are committed organ donors since the program began, Dr. Berry believes "many additional commitments" have been made.
And others did make that commitment - but the decision is not always so easy.
Take the case of Robert W. Hunnicutt, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon in Fort Worth, Texas, who decided to donate the organs of his 22-year-old daughter, Tiffany Lynn. The young woman was killed in a car crash on July 13, 1997. "It was an open head injury that killed her," says Dr. Hunnicutt. "When the hospital personnel called me at 11:30 that evening and asked me if my daughter was an organ donor, I didnít know if she had signed her driverís license."
Awareness of the "Live and Then Give" program helped him say "yes." Yet, for more than 24 hours, Dr. Hunnicutt agonized about the decision he and his wife made, until they spoke to their oldest daughter and son. "The wonderful thing was my oldest daughter and Tiffany Lynn previously had a discussion about deciding to be organ donors," says Dr. Hunnicutt. "It wouldíve been so much easier had I had the foreknowledge that she wanted to do that. When youíre faced with all of the terrible questions and decisions, it makes all of those things that much easier to be prepared." He suggests families get together and make those decisions ahead of time.
Itís an understatement to say that Dr. Berry shares in his colleagueís loss of his daughter and "gift of life" to others. While he was on the waiting list for a transplant, he recalls, "Thatís the most lonely feeling Iíve ever had. I realized that a tragedy had to happen to somebody elseís life for a chance for me to live. I didnít know if I was ever going to get that chance. My being alive depended on the love of somebody willing to donate an organ. I began to wonder if someone out there had that love."
TMA is the first medical association to implement such an program, originally designed specifically for their membership, their families and patients. "Live and Then Give" soon became a joint initiative of the TMA, The Texas Medical Association Alliance, Texas Transplantation Society and Texas Medical Association Foundation. A statewide media campaign has increased awareness and donor pledges. "I figured if we could get the physicians in the state committed to organ donors, others would follow," says Dr. Berry.
"Live and Then Give" is one of 54 U.S. Organ Procurement and Transplantation Networks, which are administered by The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) located in Richmond, Va. Dr. Berry is board member of UNOS.
At last yearís American Medical Association (AMA) Interim Meeting in Dallas, TMA presented the organ donor initiative to the House of Delegates. "They voted unanimously to take our program, modify it for other states, and then go nationwide with it," explains Dr. Berry.