HED:Tupelo man awaits double lung transplant

By M. Scott Morris

Daily Journal

Breathing has become a chore for David Oliver.

The 40-year-old Tupelo resident's troubles began in January.

"I fell out at work and went into respiratory distress. It just hit me," Oliver said. "It felt like I was suffocating."

He was diagnosed with alpha-1 antitripsin deficiency. "It takes the elasticity out of your lungs where they don't expand," he explained.

Oliver has been in and out of hospitals throughout the year. He's died twice and been resuscitated. He's been placed on ventilators several times.

"I've only got 16 percent lung capacity," he said.

Oliver has been on an organ waiting list since February, but a pair of suitable lungs have proven difficult to find.

"I've already been to (University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital) once for a transplant Sept. 3, but the lung wasn't any good," said Oliver, who carries an oxygen bottle wherever he goes.

The main obstacle to organ transplants is the poor availability of donor organs, said Charlotte Mullinnix, marketing coordinator with the Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency (MORA).

MORA has reviewed the death records of Northeast Mississippi hospitals and found that 60 to 70 people were eligible to donate organs over the last 13 months.

"In hospitals throughout Northeast Mississippi, there have been potential donors but there has not been a single donor in 13 months," Mullinnix said.

Oliver said the families of potential donors aren't being asked to donate by doctors and nurses on duty. MORA representatives are trained to ask family members about donation, however Mullinnix said her organization is not always notified when there's a potential donor candidate.

Oliver urged anyone who signs an organ donor card on the back of their driver's license to tell their families about the decision.

"Organs are not donated without family consent," said Oliver, who has traveled to area schools to raise awareness of organ donation.

Oliver believes families misunderstand how organ donation works.

The United States recognizes two types of death: brain death and cardiac death. When the heart stops beating the body's organs, such as the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and pancreas, can no longer be used for transplants.

In brain death, brain activity ceases while the heart continues to beat.

"They run very extensive tests to tell if someone is brain dead. It's not something they rush into," said Oliver, who never considered organ donation until his respiratory problems began.

Oliver's illness has had an impact on his wife, Gail, and their two children, Cody, 12, and Tiffany, 7. He regrets that he can't simply throw a football with his son.

"It's just as hard on the family as it is on the individual," he said. "Sometimes, I think it's worse."

For now, the family continues to wait for another call from Birmingham, signaling that a donor has been found.

"I'm happy to still be alive, but my quality of life could be a whole lot better," Oliver said.

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