Two-time living organ donor spreads awareness about process, plans to give more

Transplant surgeon urges more people to consider advancements in living donation

When we apply for a driver’s license or renewal, the question about becoming an organ donor comes up. Sadly, only 1-2% of deceased would-be donors’ organs end up qualifying for transplants due to the manner or timing of death.

According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), about 17.7% of all transplants in 2022 came from living donors.

That’s part of the reason why living organ donors are so vital to those waiting for life-saving transplants. News 6 Anchor Bridgett Ellison talked to a rare, two-time, living organ donor about the process, and to a local transplant surgeon who says it’s safer and easier than many people might think.

For Tyler Rosen, the draw to living organ donation started with giving blood. At 33 years old, he’s at 50 whole blood donations and counting. He says his own health issues also helped open his mind to helping others.

“I really had a new appreciation for the small things that most of us take for granted, like our sight and being able to breathe,” Rosen said. “I think it was actually at that point that I said, ‘Hey, I’m going to look more into this,’ and at that point I learned how easy it was to start the process, and that’s how it really came about though.”

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Rosen is one of less than 100 living double organ donors in the world, having donated his right kidney to his friend Katie Freeman in 2022 and donating 70% of his liver to an anonymous recipient in 2019.

Medical Director and Abdominal Transplant Surgeon Dr. Bobby Nibhanupudy with AdventHealth Transplant Institute says living donors have been studied for decades and have proven to be resilient after giving, going on to lead normal and healthy lives.

“Anyone really can be a donor in some way, shape, or form. Having just one kidney, you can live a totally normal life. With the liver, after a part of your liver is removed, the liver actually grows back to near-full capacity within about eight weeks, and after that period, they have a normal life,” Dr. Nibhanupudy said.

Dr. Nibhanupudy says studies have shown the vast majority of the public is in favor of organ donation, but there’s a lack of awareness about advancements in medicine that make it easier than ever to give.

“Because it’s done laparoscopically, the hospital stay is usually about 24-48 hours. And then, after about a week, they can go back to work.” Dr. Nibhanupudy said.

Although Rosen’s surgery was not laparoscopic because of his specific case, many of today’s surgeries are done that way, which means a less-invasive process and faster recovery time for most living donors. Doctors say one of the best parts about living donors is a better-quality organ, which means longer-lasting results for transplant recipients. They say, many times, even when donations start out anonymously, they end up creating bonds that last for life.

“That’s the miracle to me. It’s not just in the operating room, it’s the life that they get out of it and how they thrive with their life and the bonds when they’re living donors. You’re literally giving a piece of yourself to somebody, and to me, there’s no greater act of love than doing that,” Dr. Nibhanupudy said.

Scott and Katie Freeman say it was a miracle to have randomly met Rosen two years prior to Katie’s kidney failure, not knowing he was the perfect match donor she would one day need. She says the ease with which Rosen managed to donate twice has been inspiring for everyone in their circle to see, so much so that friends have stepped up to give, even after she found her match.

“We always say, we don’t know what Tyler’s made out of, because the day after transplant, he was up walking unassisted. And think it’s a lot easier than people think, but he also made it look very easy.” Freeman said.

“In the grand scheme of life, what is a month of discomfort, right? For me, knowing that I’m able to directly extend somebody’s chance of life or improve their life conditions, I think it’s a gift that you can’t compare to anything else,” Rosen said.

The amazing update to this story from the Freemans is that in mid-September, one of their friends who had intended to try to help Katie revealed he had actually stayed on the living kidney donor list and ended up donating his kidney anonymously this month to a match on the transplant waiting list. It was all motivated by their inspirational story.

Living donors can make directed, paired and non-direct donations.

You need to be over the age of 18 and in good physical and mental health.

Options for living donors include a kidney, part of the liver, and other organs and tissues.

By the way, Rosen is not finished as a living donor. He just submitted a formal application to anonymously donate conjunctival limbal stem cells from his eye. This is also known as corneal epithelial stem cells. That’s a 30-to-60 minute surgery with a one-to-two week full recovery.

For more details on organ donation, check out these links:

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You can catch Emmy Award-winning anchor, Bridgett Ellison, on News 6 Mornings, News 6 at Nine and News 6 at Noon.