Organ Donation Makes Life Possible

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Adelmo (Del) Jaramillo
For most of us, April means spring is finally here and soon the grass will be turning green and plants and flowers will be blooming. It seems fitting for April to be designated National Donate Life Month – a time to celebrate organ, eye and tissue donation. Organ donation can truly make life bloom, and eye and tissue donation can help improve life experiences.

Adelmo (Del) Jaramillo knows this only too well. Soon after retiring from UNI in 2009 Jaramillo began volunteering at UnityPoint Health – Allen Hospital. But he almost didn’t get that chance. This year he celebrates the fifteenth anniversary of his liver transplant.

Jaramillo was diagnosed with cirrhosis in 1996. At the time things seemed fairly stable and continued that way for several years.

But in Oct of 2002, Jaramillo started feeling worse. He was retaining a lot of fluid and went to see Dr. Chitra Reddy, UnityPoint Clinic Diabetes & Endocrinology – United Medical Park, who quickly diagnosed what was wrong. Because Jaramillo’s liver wasn’t working, his kidneys had also started failing so fluid kept building up and had to be removed by a procedure called paracentesis. She immediately sent him to Dr. Ravindra (Ravi) Mallavarapu at Allen Hospital’s Digestive Health Center for the procedure. Dr. Ravi then determined that he needed a liver transplant as soon as possible and sent Jaramillo to Mayo Clinic.

After being examined by doctors at Mayo Clinic, they asked him to come back in six months to see how things were going. But one Sunday in November Jaramillo knew he couldn’t wait. He had just had several liters of fluid removed only a few days prior but was already feeling even worse again.

That night Jaramillo and his wife decided to head up to the Mayo Clinic so he could see his doctor on Monday. The doctor had Jaramillo hospitalized as his liver and kidneys had started to fail. Jaramillo said he was “probably about two weeks away from not making it without a transplant.”

The following Wednesday morning his doctor came in and asked if he’d eaten yet; Jaramillo said he hadn’t eaten anything for about four days because he hadn’t felt well enough to but had finally gotten his appetite back and was just about to order some breakfast. She said she’d like him to wait if he didn’t mind because she found a liver for him. He was happy to comply and said, “I won’t eat for another week if that’s what it takes!”

Jaramillo was prepped for surgery and after a 16 hour operation returned to his room. Prior to the liver transplant Del’s face and eyes were jaundiced and he had pneumonia because his kidneys and liver couldn’t process things properly. As soon as he got back to his hospital room after the operation his wife and kids were thrilled to see rosy cheeks and healthy color back in his face.

He has to continue to take medicine to lower his immune system to keep his body from attacking the transplanted organ. And has blood work done every three months to make sure his liver and kidneys are continuing to function properly.

Jaramillo feels lucky and grateful that a liver came available in time for him. He says one of the biggest issues is waiting – the waiting list for organ donation is long and there aren’t enough organ donors.

"Somebody had to die for me to live. If God would have asked me, you got a choice you can live but someone has to die I would have never made that choice," says Jaramillo.

Jaramillo’s main message is to encourage people to be a donor. And for the family of the person who wants to be a donor to honor those wishes. There’s nothing to fear and so many people that can be saved. Organ donor recipients can also still be organ donors. They can donate any organ except the one they received as a transplant.