Omaha– Transplant recipients from all over the country, including one Kearney teen, will gather in Omaha for a reunion of sorts.
It's a trip they made before, but under much different circumstances. This time, they won't be rushing to the hospital for a life-saving organ transplant; they'll be going to a hotel for a weekend of fun and learning at the Transplant Reunion.
"More than anything, the Transplant Reunion is a celebration," said Alan Langnas, DO, chief of transplantation at The Nebraska Medical Center. "The physicians, nurses and coordinators have been with these families through the most challenging times in their lives. It's incredibly rewarding for us to see them outside of the medical center growing up, raising children, and having grand children."
The annual Transplant Reunion is a way for transplant recipients and their families to share and learn about their experiences as well as to learn about advances in transplant medicine and tips for maintaining their health.
While children play games and do arts and crafts, adults will be able to attend educational sessions geared specifically toward their post-transplant needs. The day will wrap up with group pictures featuring each transplant "class" as classified by type of transplant/organ.
The medical center's kidney transplant program began in 1970; its liver transplant program in 1985 and the intestinal transplant program in 1990.Thousands of kidney, liver, pancreas, heart and intestinal transplants have been performed at the medical center in the years since.
Megan Deaver of Kearney, Neb. had her first liver transplant in 1994. She was just four months old at the time and received a living donor transplant from someone very close to her.
"My dad was my donor," Deaver said. "I had a second transplant when I was four years old."
A healthy 19-year-old now, she's been coming to the Transplant Reunion longer than she can remember.
"The reunion is a great way to make new friends with people who've had their own transplants," she said. "I always enjoy coming to the reunion to see how big of a turn out there is."
Megan and her father have been at every transplant reunion since 1994 and would not dream of missing this year's event.
Megan will join about 50 other young patients in the Teens in Transplant group. The teen group has its own educational and artistic sessions planned.
"Teenagers have incredibly busy school and social activities and peer influence is also huge," said Wendy Grant, MD, transplant surgeon at The Nebraska Medical Center.
"Plus, it is a time for experimentations with drugs and alcohol which may damage a transplanted organ. Non-compliance with a medical plan can lead to chronic organ rejection, loss of organ function, the need for re-transplantation and even death," said Grant.
Experts say educational and support programs such as the transplant reunion are important and effective ways to keep teens engaged and informed in their own care.
Hundreds of patients and family members and expected to attend this year's transplant reunion. More than 50 teens have registered for the Teens in Transplant sessions.