The following content is created in partnership with Washington Regional Transplant Community (WRTC) and Donate Life. It does not reflect the work or opinions of NBC Washington's editorial staff. Visit BeADonor.org to learn more about WRTC and Donate Life.
When Sherri Ly first registered to be an organ donor more than 25 years ago, she knew she had the opportunity to save lives but that was only after she passed away. Little did she know that years later her brother would suddenly need a kidney transplant and she would end up donating her kidney to him as a living donor.
It was August 2013, when Sherri’s brother, Cuong Lewis, visited the doctor because of leg cramping and fatigue. Following lab work, Cuong, a husband and father of three, faced the cold, hard reality that his kidney function was at 12 percent. The doctor told him he would need a transplant within months.
“That was really my brother’s last chance. I wanted to allow him to have more time with his family, to see his kids graduate and walk his daughter down the aisle,” said Sherri. So, there wasn't any hesitation for Sherri and her twin sister, Kerri, to be tested to determine whether they were a possible donor. In the meantime, Cuong began emergency dialysis.
Good news came. The testing revealed Sherri was a match and in March 2014 she underwent surgery to donate one of her kidneys so her brother could receive a lifesaving transplant. “We see many cases of people who need a kidney and their family members aren't a match and those people have to wait on the national transplant waiting list for years. To know I was able to save my brother’s life was very significant for me,” said Sherri.
The moment Cuong found out Sherri was a match, emotions began to overwhelm him. “I cried for hours thinking of all the sacrifices she was making,” said Cuong. “To be able to give something that is in your own body to your sibling is something special.”
Five year after the successful surgery, Cuong has an improved quality of life, works two jobs, coaches several youth sports teams and spends lots of time with his wife and children. And it’s all due to his sister’s lifesaving gift. Cuong now wants to see other patients have the same opportunity at a second chance at life. “I wish more people would choose to save other people’s lives through organ donation,” said Cuong.
Organ Donation: The Critical Need
The need for organ donors is dire. Currently, more than 113,000 people in the United States are waiting for an organ transplant. While 95% of U.S. adults support organ donation, only 58% are actually registered as donors. “The reality is that people are dying because the organ they need is not donated in time and people’s organs could save the lives of those in need,” said Sherri.
The need for an organ transplant transcends geographic and cultural boundaries, something that particularly resonates with Sherri and Cuong as Asian Americans. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), while 8 percent of individuals on the national transplant waiting list are Asian-American, only 2.5 percent of all donors are Asian-American. For Sherri, a former investigative television reporter, it wasn't enough to give the gift of life, she also produced a series that documents her humble journey of donating a kidney to her dying brother to help educate the public about the importance of organ donation.
Through her research and personal experience, Sherri’s goal was to encourage at least one more person to become a registered organ donor to ultimately save lives.
Organ Donation Myths Debunked
Despite public education efforts nationwide, misconceptions about donation persist. Here are some facts to better understand organ, eye and tissue donation:
"If you are an organ donor, doctors will not work hard to save your life."
FALSE: Your life always comes first. Saving you is the doctor’s only priority. Organ donation is an option after death has been declared.
"Regular funeral services are not possible following organ donation because the donation will leave the body in a poor condition."
FALSE: An open casket funeral is possible for organ, eye and tissue donors. Through the entire donation process the body is treated with care and respect. Funeral arrangements can continue as planned following donation.
"Organ donation is against my religion."
FALSE: All major Eastern and Western religions support donation as a final act of compassion and generosity.
"I can only donate kidneys."
FALSE: As a living donor, you can donate a kidney or a segment of the liver. A deceased donor can save up to eight lives and heal the lives of 75 people by donating their liver, kidneys, heart, lungs, pancreas, small intestine, heart valves, bone, skin and corneas.
Washington Regional Transplant Community (WRTC) is the federally-designated organ procurement organization for the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area. It is a non-profit organization responsible for recovering and distributing organs and tissues used in lifesaving and life-enhancing transplants, as well as medical research and therapy. WRTC serves approximately 5.5 million people, 44 hospitals and six transplant centers. It also educates the public about organ, eye and tissue donation with the goal of increasing the number of registered organ donors, and ultimately saving more lives. Visit BeADonor.org for more facts and information that can help you make a legal and informed decision about donation.