Calling All Georgians: Be An Organ Donor!

Organ donation is so important. Many Georgians are waiting right now for a life-saving organ. I encourage folks to sign donor permission forms and tell their relatives that if they are killed or die unexpectedly, they want any usable organs donated. You must be clear about your wishes regarding all possible organs, including skin and tendons or ligaments, suitable for donation. I love the bumper sticker that says: “Be An Organ Donor: Heaven Knows We Need Them Down Here.” So true! There is an alarming shortage of donated organs in Georgia and in the United States. Over half of the 100,000 Americans on the national transplant waiting list will die before they get a transplant. Most of these deaths are needless. Americans bury or cremate 20,000 transplantable organs every year.

Below is a story about a little boy who desperately needs a new kidney. I share this story with you with the hope that maybe someone out there will read this and respond or, at the very least, become an organ donor by signing his or her driver’s license.

Finding A Kidney For Giovanni
Updated 7/18/2009 12:17:16 AM
Michael King
ATLANTA — Nine-year-old Giovanni Santos knows more about medicine than he should. He has never experienced what it is like to be healthy.

But at every cruel turn, at every disappointment and reversal, his family has been there to support him — and Giovanni has prevailed. So, what is to happen now that Giovanni and his family are facing another twist so bizarre, so heartbreaking that they are at a loss to understand?

It’s time for another cutthroat game of dominoes at the Santos house. For dad Peterson, mom Michelle, daughter Isabella and son Giovanni, the bonds of family are strong. But today, the competitive juices are stronger.

They play hard against each other, but they fight harder for each other.

Peterson and Michelle learn, right away, what a fighter their first child, Giovanni, is. Born prematurely, his kidneys are damaged. He will need a transplant — but not until he gains weight.

“We had no certainty that he was going to make it or not,” Peterson said. “You know, it was basically do your best and hope for the best.”

But Giovanni’s a fighter. He gains weight. He gets stronger. His family decides to find out if anyone among them is a match to donate a kidney.

“Michelle and I, of course we, you know, we put our names in there first,” Peterson said. “And then her mom also said that she would like to do it.”

Amazingly all three match. That’s three kidneys for Giovanni — each, given current transplant technology, with an average functional life of ten years.

“I’m looking at it, you know, being the rational guy that I am, I say, ‘I’ve got thirty years of his life covered,” said Peterson.

They decide that Giovanni’s grandmother will donate first, leaving the younger parents for later in his life.
At 14 months old, Giovanni gets a healthy kidney.

Still, life is not easy for Giovanni. His new kidney rests in his front — the only space in an infant where it can go. The anti-rejection drugs he takes leave him constantly vulnerable to illness. And he contracts a form of cancer — which he beats. He is a fighter.

Now Giovanni is nine years old. He has become an active, athletic boy. He plays tennis. He loves soccer. But his kidney has started to fail. It is time for another transplant.

“Michelle and I had decided that she would be the donor again because right now I am the main provider at our home — because Michelle had stopped working two years ago because of Giovanni’s health,” Peterson said.

There are still two viable options — two donors with kidneys who match Giovanni — his parents. His second kidney transplant is scheduled for this June. But something happened.

“May 26 — that’s when everything changed,” Peterson said.

Giovanni is riding his bike. He points down the hill into his subdivision and gains speed — too much speed. He panics and slams into a neighbor’s truck.

“You know the metal part of the handlebar?” Giovanni asked. “And then I hit it right here — like, on it. And then um my bike fell over.”

The neighbor scoops up Giovanni and runs him home. But Giovanni walks through the door. He is a fighter.

“He really starts bleeding. And he starts saying, ‘Daddy, I’m not feeling well. I’m not feeling well. And I’m feeling dizzy. And he starts going like this,” Peterson said.

Because Giovanni’s kidney sits in his front, the bicycle handlebars rupture it. He is now bleeding profusely.

“I was laying my head because I was feeling hot,” Giovanni said. “And then I passed out.”

While Peterson yells to his wife to call 911, Giovanni struggles to speak.

“He said ‘Daddy,Daddy, I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.’ And I lay him on the floor. And he stops breathing on me,” Peterson said.

Peterson Santos looks at his unconscious son.

“So, basically, my son died right there in front of me,” he said. “And I started doing CPR on him — and I said,’Giovanni, come back, buddy. Come back!”
If Giovanni is to live, his father believes he must will him to.

“He’s still very pale, and he’s trying to go back out again,” Peterson said. “I said,’Giovanni, don’t go buddy. You got to stay with me.'”
And he does. Giovanni stabilizes. He is helicoptered to a hospital. His failing kidney is still functioning. But he needs a blood transfusion. His body reacts to the blood.

“The unfortunate part of, is that at that time, the blood that was given to Giovanni was apparently similar to Michelle. so, basically, Giovanni had just created anti-bodies against Michelle,” he said.

Michelle Santos is no longer a match to donate a kidney to her son. The operation to replace Giovanni’s failing kidney is scheduled for July 2. His father remains a match. There is but one thing he wants to hear when he wakes up.

“I just wanted to know that, hey, Giovanni’s surgery went perfect. He’s feeling well. He’s in recovery,” Peterson said.

Except that was not what he heard. Peterson’s kidney was removed, but Giovanni was not able to have his kidney.

The Santos do not wish to discuss what happened — other than to acknowledge that of all the things that have befallen Giovanni and them, this was the cruelest blow of all.

“That was probably the worst message I’ve ever had to go through,” Peterson said.

So now the Santos family is down to zero. Giovanni still needs a kidney and they no longer have anyone to turn to. But Peterson Santos has set his emotions aside for the good of his son.

“I still need to look at what is best for my son. And what’s best for my son is for us to go out there and ask for help,” he said.

Giovanni is now on the organ transplant list, and must wait for a suitable kidney to become available. His wish is simple.

“I find a donor, get a kidney, and then I can go back to soccer,” Giovanni said.

He takes medicine to help his failing kidney, and could need dialysis at any moment. With the support of his family he is ready to handle whatever comes his way. He always has. Giovanni Santos is a fighter.

Peterson and Michelle Santos encourage families to sign organ donation cards, and have the opportunity to give someone the best gift of all. They are hoping that will happen soon for Giovanni.