THE BLOG
01/27/2016 10:44 pm ET Updated Jan 27, 2017

Transplant: A Gift of Life With the Support of Science

Maybe it is the secret that we all chose to hide from the people around us, trying to turn our gaze far from the ugliness of the reality. Or maybe we ignore it or we do not care about what happens to all those people, the survival of whom depends on our own contribution.

In any case, organ donation constitutes a process which is almost unknown in Greece. This is confirmed by the official statistics of the National Transplant Organisation.

According to them, Greece occupies the last place in the ranking among the European countries, having just 33 organ donations in October, which means 3 donors per one million of the population.

As a consequence, people of any age have to stay in the waiting list for many years, until the donor who will give them the right to live is found. After discussing with a family who has decided to donate the organs of one of its members, with young people waiting for a graft to be found, as also with the first woman in Greece, who has had an organ transplant and who has now become a mother, i have written down their experiences on this urgent issue.

THE FIRST ORGAN DONATOR IN IOANNINA

In this country there are bright examples of people who decide to donate the organs of a relative at the crucial moment of his death. One such example is the Bahoura family from Ioannina.

"In 2008, my brother Andreas had an ischemic stroke at the age of 41. For almost two weeks he was hospitalized in the intensive care and ended up with brain death. At that moment, the first thing we thought about, was to donate his organs", says Irini, Andrea's sister.

Irini claims that although she and her family did not know much about transplantation, the thought that Andrea's organs would give life to some people who are in need of them, was a consolation for the family.

So although Andreas is not alive, his liver, his cornea and his kidney gave life to three individuals and he became the first organ donor at Ioannina.

"He always used to offer his help, on any way he could. In his whole life he supported any kind of donation. That's why we decided to proceed with this act when he died. I am sure that my brother would also wish that we did it", says Irini, expressing the complaint that none of the donators approached the family.

ON THE WAITING LIST

Moreover, what one can hardly accept is the fact that, on the waiting list there are also young people, who are in need of a heart transplant. Young people, whose health used to be in an excellent condition, people who had a job and lived their daily routine like all other people did, are now forced to live with the support machine until the moment that a suitable donor will give them the coveted graft.

A typical example is the case of thirty-year-old Anna Palaiopanou, who has been living with a heart support machine for the last six months. Everything started almost one and a half years ago, when she felt an intense tiredness, which she attributed to the fact that she was working for many hours. But as time went by, tiredness became more and more intense and, after a series of medical examinations, the doctors concluded that something was wrong with her heart.

"I had the defibrillator in January of 2015 and for the next six months my life was very difficult. I suffered from heart failure. I was wearing my blouse and I needed an interval of twenty minutes to rest and then wear my trousers" she says while talking to "F".

When she was told that she needed a transplant she was shocked and unable to believe that she was in such a bad condition. After visiting various specialists, she joined the waiting list for a transplant in June 2015 and has since lived with mechanical support. Her two sisters are her guardian angels, who stand by her side 24 hours a day, as somebody must be always close to her in case that the mechanism is damaged. "Although sometimes I forget it, I talk and laugh with my sisters, fear always exists deep inside. Don't forget that everything is just a machine, a stranger which can be damaged any time. If it breaks down, I am lost".

Apart from her family and her husband who stands by her from the first moment that this health problem unexpectedly appeared into her life, the doctors of Onassio Hospital also help her feel optimistic. Her confidence towards them is such, that she is not afraid at all to enter the surgery again, when she knows that the operation will be undertaken by these individuals.

"As long as I have Dr Adamopoulos, Dr Sfirakis, Dr Louka and mrs Gouziouta, I am cool, even if I know that heart operations are always hard and dangerous" she says obviously thrilled by the effort made not only by the doctors, but also the nurses.
Another such instance is the case of 29-year-old Tina who suffered from stomach ache and intense tiredness last June. Although she was initially supposed to enter the surgery for bile operation, after thorough medical examinations the doctors concluded that there was a problem with her heart. Tina herself cannot forget the moment when she was transferred from Thessalonica to Athens in an ambulance. When she asked the doctor who was accompanying her, why they were going to Athens and he answered that they were going for a pre-transplant check up, she was speechless. "I remember me sitting on the corner of the ambulance, looking at myself in the pane and thinking that this couldn't be happening to me, it was just a nightmare. We arrived at Onassio Hospital and within one week I was informed that I would have a defibrillator, an artificial heart and then, heart transplantation.

For Tina, a particularly active girl with a zest for living, these unpleasant news about her health, were like death. But what shocked her more than anything else was the fact that she used to be such a healthy person and suddenly she found herself having an artificial heart, without being able to get out of her house, not even for a short walk.

"I miss freedom, being able to leave home at least for a while, going somewhere on my own. I live with my parents who stand by me all day long and not a single day passes without the thought of the telephone ringing to tell me that a graft has been finally found".

The most important for both Anna and Tina is informing people about everything that has to do with transplantation. "Surely one cannot persuade somebody to become an organ donor, but think of how many people lose their lives every day. If all those people donated their organs, there wouldn't be any waiting lists and the state wouldn't be burdened with additional expenditures for artificial hearts, as a machine costs 200.000 €" concludes Anna.

A LITTLE "MIRACLE"

The story of Zoi Kostarides could surely be the script of a movie, as it is the story of the first woman in Greece who has ever undergone a transplant operation and despite the doctors' objections, she got pregnant and gave birth to a healthy little boy. Her health problem was made known to her by some medical examinations she had when she was thirteen years old.

Given that there were not obvious symptoms, she didn't pay much attention. Ten years later at the age of 23, the fist symptoms- among them faints- appeared. At the age of thirty she was suffering from serious heart failure and she entered the intensive care.

"It was the worst phase in my life. I couldn't even serve myself. One day the telephone rang and we were informed that a graft was found. A seventeen-year-old boy had died and I had mixed feelings. On the one hand there was a mourning family and on the other hand, there were we, waiting for something better" she says. Finally everything ended well and the seventeen-year-old boy's heart is now "beating" into Zoi's body.

It was published in Freddo newspaper on December 5th, 2015