Cloquet grad featured on ‘Nightline’ while awaiting transplantThe eyes of the world were on Cloquet High School graduate Jessica Danielson Tuesday night as she appeared on ABC’s nationally syndicated news program, “Nightline.”
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
The eyes of the world were on Cloquet High School graduate Jessica Danielson Tuesday night as she appeared on ABC’s nationally syndicated news program, “Nightline.”
At age 19, Danielson was diagnosed with restrictive cardiomyopathy – a condition where her heart wasn’t pumping enough blood for her body – which eventually led to congestive heart failure. At the time of her diagnosis, doctors told her she would either have a heart attack or die from the disease within three years.
Fast forward 10 years. Today Danielson, at age 30, has beaten the odds by a long sight, but her condition has continued to take its toll. The lack of blood flow to her liver has caused considerable damage to that organ as well, and she has been at Mayo Clinic for the past four months awaiting a heart/liver transplant. Though she has worked her way to the top of the nation’s transplant list, the wait has understandably seemed interminable to Danielson and her family.
“I don’t think death is in the cards for me,” Danielson told “Nightline.” “I have way too much to do and I’m doing everything I can to stay strong.”
On Tuesday’s “Nightline” segment, host Bill Weir talked with her about what it’s like to be on the waiting list for such a critical, life-saving operation. The segment, called “Gift of Life,” detailed several patients at Rochester’s Mayo Clinic who are awaiting transplants and how difficult it is to await that “precious little red cooler carrying a living piece of a person” that will help restore the quality of life for another.
“Jessica loves her job [as part of the production crew at WDIO-Channel 10 in Duluth] and desperately wants to start a family,” reported Weir. “She needs a new heart and liver [in order to] return to the simplest of pleasures, such as burning candles and taking a bath,” neither of which she is able to do while at Mayo awaiting the double transplant.
“Nightline” stated that when a donor organ becomes available for transplant, Mayo’s surgeons are so skilled that the second a patient receives that organ, his or her chances of survival jump dramatically.
“It’s one way we can infuse some good into an otherwise tragic episode,” commented Dr. Brooks Edwards, head of Mayo’s Transplant Unit, to “Nightline.”
Danielson admitted in her interview on “Nightline” that she frequently wrestles with the emotional toll of being at the top of the organ transplant list, knowing that another person must die if she is to be able to receive that gift.
“Someone else’s heart is working for me right now,” she reflected. “I know I will always think of my future donor as a part of me…kind of like the marrying of two souls.”
Weir detailed to the “Nightline” audience that only about 40 percent of all drivers check the organ donor option on their driver’s licenses.
“No one likes to think of the end of their life, especially while standing in line at the DMV,” said Weir.
And yet, today some 114,000 people are awaiting transplants in the United States, and some 7,000 will die this year while waiting – an average of 18 per day.
Tuesday’s “Nightline” segment coincided with the launch of a campaign on Facebook to encourage more people to sign up as organ donors so people such as Danielson will have a better chance of survival.
Weir explained that the executives of Facebook see the lack of organ donors as a social crisis and concluded that their social networking site has “the technology and ability to save and improve patients’ lives.”
Facebook now features a profile option in users’ timelines that drives them to a site where they are instructed on the proper way to sign up as an organ donor. Users are also encouraged to motivate others by sharing the fact that they’ve signed up. And since more than half of Americans are now on Facebook, Weir stated this process “could radically reduce wait times” for those in need of transplants.
By the time the “Nightline” segment aired at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday night, some 100,000 Facebook users had already added “organ donor” to their profiles, and 10,000 had changed their status to become organ donors in what could become a history-making effort to utilize social networking sites for the public good.
A few hours before the ABC program aired, Danielson was about to make a little history of her own. She and her family had received word that a heart and lung were available that were a match for her. Her brother Brent reported on the Pine Journal Facebook page that they were headed to Rochester, in hopes the transplant would take place that same night.
About 10:20 p.m. Tuesday night, however, doctors delivered the unfortunate news that the donor liver wasn’t healthy enough for transplant. Brent explained that both organs must come from the same donor in Jessica’s situation, so her transplant did not take place. He said the good news was that the heart was healthy enough to go to another recipient, however.
Brent said the balance of the night was understandably a “roller coaster of emotions” for all of them. Wednesday morning, the doctors came and explained to them in detail the exact process that needed to take place in order for the transplant to be effective and just what went wrong with the defective organ.
Danielson’s situation created “a flurry on Facebook” when the word got out that a transplant might take place, said Brent, and the news was also broadcast Tuesday night on WDIO by Jessica’s coworkers. Sadly, however, the waiting must now go on.
Jessica’s story has been tracked not only by WDIO but also WCCO in Minneapolis, in addition to the most recent piece on “Nightline.”
“The doctors are very proud of her for getting the word out about organ donation,” said Brent.