Providing others with a chance to live

April 26, 2002, midnight | By Matt Yalowitz | 18 years, 8 months ago

Blair teen is alive today because of organ donation

Reprinted with permission from The Gazette

For nearly seven years, Wheaton teenager Daniel Canal waited for an organ transplant that would save his life. The long wait came to an end in 1998, when Canal received not just one organ, but 12.

Canal's three quadruple-organ transplants during a seven-week period saved his life. They also earned him the world record for the most organs transplanted into one person.

"I have three families to thank for taking the time to think how their loved ones' organs could help another," said Canal, now 17 and a junior at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring.

Nearly 80,000 seriously ill Americans are on the United Network for Organ Sharing's National Patient Waiting List -- and many will not be as lucky as Canal. Most patients are waiting for only one organ, but there is a severe shortage of supply across the nation. Every day, 16 people die waiting for a transplant, according to the Washington Regional Transplant Consortium.

Canal is an unusual teenager for another reason. When he received his driver's license, Canal readily checked off the box, indicating his willingness to be a donor himself. But many teenagers do not take that step, and an effort is under way to teach them about the importance of being an organ donor.

"The biggest benefit is giving someone a chance to live," Canal said. "I've gone from being a boy on his deathbed to a boy living out his dreams. And that dream pretty much was to be alive and enjoy every minute of it."

Canal also said a family can benefit from donating the organs of a loved one. "To the families who donate their loved one's organs, there's the satisfaction that you've done something to change someone's life," he said.

Canal's ordeal began around Christmas in 1992, when doctors discovered that his small intestine had become twisted and would need to be removed. As Canal waited for a transplant, he became more and more sick. Eventually, he had to be fed through a tube because he could not digest food.

When surgeons in Miami began operating on Canal in May 1998, they expected to give him only a new small intestine. But they discovered that three of his other organs had been ruined from a lack of oxygen -- Canal now also needed a liver, a pancreas and a stomach.

Canal's body rejected the first set of organs. Within weeks, doctors replaced them with four new organs, but Canal's body rejected those as well. Finally, on June 20, 1998, Canal received his third transplant, which was successful.

Sara Idler, a public affairs associate for the Washington Regional Transplant Consortium, emphasizes that more than one life is saved when someone decides to be an organ donor. According to Idler, up to eight people could be saved if all of one person's organs are donated, and 50 people could be helped if both organs and tissues are donated. "It's just a question of whether or not to pass on the gift of life that they have received to someone who will die without it," Idler said.

Thirty-eight percent of Maryland drivers have designated themselves as possible donors on their license, according to the Transplant Resource Center of Maryland. The reluctance of some people to donate may be due to fears and misconceptions about organ donation, Idler said.

According to Canal, talking about whether to donate is easier when someone can associate with the process.

"Meeting someone who has had a transplant makes people realize the importance of organ donation," said Canal, who has spoken at universities and rallies about the topic.

Canal also encourages teenagers to learn as much as possible about organ donation and to spend time thinking about it.

"Just think about how much it would mean to you if a relative was given a second chance at life because someone else decided to donate their organs," he said.

Unlike Canal, most teenagers are confronted with the issue of organ donation for the first time when they get their driver's license. But efforts can be made to teach teenagers about the positive aspects of organ donation, said Erin Kinsella, a senior at Georgetown Visitation School in Washington, D.C. Kinsella is one of the founding members of Youths for Life, an organization established to educate teenagers about organ donation, especially those who are getting their driver's licenses.

Youths for Life was established in memory of Walter Payton, a pro football player who died of a rare liver ailment in 1999 while awaiting a liver transplant.

"We want to do away with a lot of the misconceptions concerning organ donation," Kinsella said.

The driver's license is an important step in thinking about organ donation. It also takes a family's consent for a donation to occur. It is important for family members to know their loved one's wishes concerning organ donation, says Idler.

"It just takes one sentence: 'Mom, dad, I want to be an organ donor,'" Idler says.

For that reason, another goal of Youths for Life is to encourage teenagers to talk about organ donation with their families, Kinsella said.

"The people that have the ultimate decision [to donate organs] are the closest family relatives," Kinsella said.

Some of the education about transplants can occur in high school health classes, which are mandatory for graduation in Maryland. In her health classes at Montgomery Blair High School, teacher Susan Soulé supports organ donation. "If we had more education about organ donation," Soulé said, "then more people would be willing to at least consider it."

Ethical or religious reasons may influence some people's feelings about organ donation, says Soulé.

"It is their body, and everyone has that right to decide what to do with their body or else you're not in a democratic society," she said. The Washington Regional Transplant Consortium points out, however, that organ donation is accepted by all major organized religions.

For Canal, the generosity of families who saw the value in organ donation allowed him to lead the life of a normal teenager. Four years after his surgery, Canal today is busy with school and promoting organ donation.

"I've received so much from so many people: doctors, family and friends. It's an honor to be able to give something back to anyone who might need a helping hand," Canal said.

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Matt Yalowitz. Matthew Yalowitz, a junior in the Communication Arts Program, is enjoying the school year as a page editor on the staff of Silver Chips. In his spare time from Chips, Matthew enjoys fencing, running cross country and helping to get the Blair Student Democrats Club … More »

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