We're going inside the operating room in this Healthwatch 16 report. We already introduced you to two grade-school classmates, who hadn't seen each other in decades, reunited as organ donor and recipient at Geisinger Medical Center. Doctors allowed us to follow them into the OR for a better understanding of the process of live organ donation.
"I'm so overwhelmed by the whole thing. I don't even know what to say," Danny Tighe told us on May 23rd, just before he went into surgery that would change his life: a kidney transplant.
Danny suffered from end-stage renal disease and had been on dialysis for two years. He found a donor in Anne Crew, a married mother of four from Pottstown. They went to school together more than 30 years ago at Holy Rosary in Duryea and hadn't seen each other since. Then, Anne happened to see Danny's story on Facebook and came forward to help.
"I had a really positive attitude about the whole process. I wanted to do it, I felt really positive about it, I felt like it was a gift to me," explained Anne.
Dr. Chintalapati Varma allowed us into the operating room at Geisinger near Danville to tell their story. He was in charge of Anne's surgery that day. The incision he made was a small one, just a few inches long. Dr. Varma and his team inserted a scope that transmitted images onto video monitors. The technique typically means less pain, less scarring, and a shorter recovery time.
"As you go to the upper part of the kidney there's a spleen, there's a pancreas, there's the adrenal gland, it's a pretty complicated surgery because it's being done through keyhole," Dr. Varma noted.
Working through a hand port, Dr. Varma finds the kidney and cuts the tissue around it to remove it. Off to the side, a separate table is being prepped for the kidney itself. Once it's removed, it's brought here to be flushed, cooled, and checked over. Just moments later, the kidney is brought into the recipient's room, just across the hall, where a separate surgical team works to attach it. Being able to do that so quickly- with an organ from a live donor- is key.
"This is a better situation because we prepare them, correct what we need to, it's done during the day, with everyone around. The outcome is fantastic," Dr. Varma told us.
Doctors say Anne's kidney, once transplanted into Danny, came to life almost instantly.
Two weeks post-operation, Anne says she normally gets one of two reactions when people find out what she did: either "you're nuts," or "you're a hero." She says neither is true.
"I don't think it's heroic. I think it's humane to want a person to have a life that is good and full and free of things," she said.
Danny says he is forever grateful to Anne, and has vowed to get his message out there in order to help someone else.
"Please become a donor. you're saving someone's life. and you never know if someone you know will need that same gift in return."