BALTIMORE — Kathleen O’Boyle was not shy about jumping into the medical histories of those who attended a Christmas Party this week at the University of Maryland Medical Center’s healing garden. “Did you have a transplant?” she asked a man who was sitting his wife while chatting with other guests. “What did you have?”
What would have ordinarily been a party faux pas at the event Tuesday night was met with honest and joyful answers because the lives of many of the roughly 300 guests had severely improved or even had been saved by an organ transplant.
For the past four years, the center has held the party as part of the Transplant Patient Education Series that it hosts each month for recipients.
Gracie Moore-Greene supervises social workers who monitor the psychological health of solid-organ transplant recipients from the time they are diagnosed with an illness requiring a transplant through their recovery from surgery.
Miss Moore-Greene said the education series runs from September to May and features lectures from doctors and a support session to help patients cope with psychological issues related to transplants.
“It’s still a lifestyle change,” she said. “I think it’s important that patients have a connection to the hospital.”
Miss O’Boyle, 39, of Silver Spring, said she still feels healthy after receiving a kidney from her sister nearly 10 years ago. A self-described gadfly, Miss O’Boyle said she likes to reach out to other people who are dealing with recovery issues.
“Whenever I go to the transplant clinic, I was always talking to other people to see how they are doing,” she said. “I ask a lot of questions.”
Joyce Herbert, 44, of Baltimore County, said the program gives her the comfort of knowing she is not alone.
“It’s like a miracle to find all these people,” said Mrs. Herbert who received a kidney in last December. “When I was sick, I felt like I was the only one.”
As of yesterday, there were roughly 98,000 candidates across the country registered for an organ transplant. And 76 percent of them were waiting for a kidney, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.
There were 2,012 Marylanders waiting for a transplant — roughly 68 percent for a kidney and 23 percent for a liver.
Virginia had 2,555 candidates, with about 83 percent needing a kidney. The District had 1,486 candidates with about 82 percent needing a kidney.
Medical center spokeswoman Ellen Beth Levitt said that most of the transplants there are for kidneys and that center doctors performed 245 so far this year. The center also has transplanted 25 pancreases, 44 livers, 29 hearts and 14 lungs in 2007.
Frank Zizlavski and his wife, Lynne, spent much of the party sitting at a table munching hors d’oevres and chatting with former patients.
Mr. Zizlavski, 66, said he is recovered well from a lung transplant in April and has since played nine holes of golf on four separate occasions.
He also said he enjoys the transplant-education program because it give him a chance to talk to people about transplant issues other than his own.
“You share,” Mr. Zizlavski said. “You answer some of their questions. You get some of your questions answered. The social aspect is good because people are always asking questions.”
Though it wasn’t apparent, party guests Paul and Regina Monaghan have a unique relationship in that the married couple also are recipient and donor.
Mrs. Monaghan donated her kidney to her husband about five years ago, despite her husband’s protest.
Now the couple comes to the hospital for the gatherings to relate to others who’ve gone through similar experiences.
“We sit down and share war stories sometimes,” Mr. Monaghan said. “And try to encourage people who are on the list to get organs.”
Dr. Benjamin Philosophe, who runs the center’s transplant division, said the program offers social healing to patients, which he says is just as important as physical rehabilitation.
Dr. Philosophe said that each person’s experience is unique in the details, but that they share a common bond.
“They all have in common that their lives have been significantly changed,” he said. “To see all of these people that are doing so well is actually very emotional because a lot of theses people were close to dying.”