Remarks as prepared; not a transcript.

RADM Kenneth P. Moritsugu, M.D., M.P.H
Acting Surgeon General
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Remarks at the North American Transplant Coordinators Organization Conference

August 30, 2006
Chicago, IL

"Donors & Recipients: Why We Do What We Do"

Good morning! It is a real privilege to join you and my fellow panelists this morning - all of us dedicated to saving lives.

It is poetic that we are the last session of this meeting, the last item on your agenda, the last activity, before we all depart back to our homes and our programs.

And that is what you do; every day - that is what you do, and why you do what you do:

  • the donor families: the last step before you can move the entire system to achieve donation and transplantation; and
  • the recipients: the first step of a new life, made possible by what you do every day.

These have been a great few days here in Chicago:

  • learning about the current and future state of the art about the science and practice and experience of donation and transplantation;
  • renewing old friendships and relationships, expanding your networks; and
  • refreshing yourselves - in mind, in body, and in spirit!

And how important each of these is:

  • to work with the best science, evidence, and experience;
  • to use networking as your force multiplier; and
  • to take care of yourselves, as transplant professionals;
  • to renew, to update, to refresh: to work hard, and to play hard as well!

And what a way to finish these few days: to see and to hear from the human faces of donation and transplantation: why you do what you do, every day!

Many of you are familiar with our stories:

  • The Nicholas Effect, from Reg Green, and how life goes on;
  • The energy of those with a renewed life, from Emily and Chelsey Cornwall:

Many of you are aware that twelve years ago, my wife, Donna Lee Jones, died in an auto accident. And because of the caring efforts that several of you, from the donation as well as the placement and the transplantation teams, exerted for me and my family,

  • a man in Tampa Florida, received her heart, and a new lease on life for seven years;
  • a teenage boy in Washington, DC, failing in school because of his disease, received a kidney and pancreas;
  • a hospital custodian received her other kidney;
  • a woman in Pennsylvania received her liver, and while she did not live long, she was able to enjoy a bit more of life, for herself, and for those around her;
  • a young woman in Baltimore, MD, received one cornea; and
  • a government worker received the other.

Then four years later, my daughter, Vikki Lianne, died in a separate auto accident, and again, because of the professionalism and the caring of so many of you,

  • a mother of five children from upstate New York received a heart and a new lease on life for herself and for her family;
  • a widow with four children received her lung;
  • a 59 year old man from Washington, DC, active with a local charity, received her liver;
  • a widower with one daughter received one kidney;
  • a married working father of several children received the other kidney;
  • a 26 year old man in Florida received one cornea; and a 60 year old woman in Pennsylvania received the other.

Because of you, and your teams, the legacies of Donna and Vikki, and Nicholas, and so many other donors - live on in others, granting a renewed life, and a better quality of life, for people like Emily and Chelsey, and their families and friends and coworkers and colleagues - for their communities!

But your work is not done.

When Donna died, there were about 30,000 on the waiting list for a solid organ, and she helped remove four people from that list, into a renewed life!

When Vikki died, four years later, 50,000 occupied the waiting list, and she helped remove another five people from that list.

But we continue to improve, in our science, in our technology of pumping and perfusion and preservation, in our medical and surgical techniques, in our capabilities to identify more people who are in need, and who can benefit from a transplant. We continue to expand our abilities to help more people access this gift of life.

And as a result of our progress, despite our successes, we now have 92,759 - nearly 93,000 -- people waiting for a solid organ.

But can we even imagine what this number means? What this represents? Can you even begin to envision the human faces of 93,000 people.

Let me give you that visual; and it too is timely, as we close out pre-season pro football, and begin our season of hours a week, several days a week, of watching pro football teams competing for real!

There is only one pro football stadium in the US that holds more than 83,000 spectators. Even here in Chicago, Soldier Field hosts a maximum of 66,000 fans,

And now, at the great personal risk, depending on your football loyalties, I show you Fedex Field in Washington, DC, that one NFL stadium, which holds 91,665. [show slide]

So when you watch the Redskins play at home, or rather your favorite team play the Redskins in DC, imagine that everyone in the stadium, filled to overflowing, is on that national waiting list, waiting for an organ transplant, waiting for an organ to transplant. And there are so many people, that over 1,000 people can't even get in.

And when you watch any other NFL team playing in their home stadium, imagine that stadium filled to overflowing even more, unable to contain the number of people waiting for a gift of life.

And there are thousands more, waiting for bone marrow, cornea, skin, and other tissue.

This is what you do.

Why You Do What You Do

So why do you do what you do?

You do it for the donors, who are generous to give of themselves, to help others.

You do it for the donor families, to provide them a haven of comfort in their grief, to help them leave a legacy of life from their loved ones.

You do it for the nearly 93,000 people on the waiting list, striving to find that donor for that candidate, who is waiting and depending on you and the transplant system for a renewed life.

You do it for the recipients, who benefit from the miracle of that renewed life, of a better quality of life, with a transplant.

You do it for recipient families and friends and colleagues, who will enjoy their recipient's company over an extended and improved life.

You do it for yourselves and the donation and transplant system, because it is what you do so well, as professionals, every day.

You do it, because it is not simply science and technology and numbers, but because it affects humans, people, like you and me, every day.

You do it, because it is the right thing to do.

You do it, because by doing so, you dignify the lives of others: donors, donor families, candidates, recipients, their families, transplant professionals, and communities.

Thank you, for being who you are, and for doing what you do - for life, every day!


Last revised: January 9, 2007