by Jacqueline Mansky | The ACORN
Six years ago, Shirley Pirozzi, a retired drug counselor from Oak Park, blacked out while driving her car. She crashed into a tree and was rushed to the hospital, but doctors found little wrong with the 71-year-old woman other than low blood sugar.
Pirozzi’s accident was attributed to the sugar imbalance, and she was released from the hospital.
But the blackouts continued to occur until February 2005, when Pirozzi was diagnosed with nonalcoholic liver disease. U.S. doctors don’t know what causes the condition.
The elderly woman was put on the liver transplant waiting list, and when her kidneys started to fail she was put on dialysis.
According to Donate Life California, more than 92,000 people in the U.S., including 19,000 in California, are waiting for organ transplants. Because of a shortage of donated organs, approximately 6,000 will die. Pirozzi is one of the lucky ones.
On May 30, 2006, Pirozzi was given the liver and kidney of a 38-year-old man who had died in a boating accident in Wisconsin. Seven months later, after surgery and rehabilitation, the retired drug counselor had her life back.
“You can’t live without liver, you can’t live without heart.” Pirozzi said. “When I was on dialysis for kidneys, it was a threehour trip every day. It becomes very discouraging for a lot of people who have to live like this.”
Pirozzi attributes her strength to the support of her family.
“My husband was with me every single day. He was my caregiver. Caregivers are an important part of life. Even now, five years later, when I become ill he is there and helps me get through.” Pirozzi said.
Pirozzi said she’s known four people who have received a new heart and many more who have received a liver, just like her.
“Some people don’t make it, and that’s a risk. But the risk is well worth it,” she said.
After her transplant, Pirozzi found her perspective on life had shifted.
“When you face death, it really wakes you up to a lot of things— especially the little things. Now when I go for a walk, I pay attention to the flowers and little bugs. It really was life-changing.”
Pirozzi said most transplant recipients make it a point to take care of their bodies.
“ We do whatever to stay healthy. Giving up is just like saying it’s impossible,” she said. “We can do anything. We say we’re going to make it. We’re very persistent, and that gets us through.”
Today Pirozzi serves as an ambassador for Donate Life California, an organization that promotes organ donor registration in California. She also is actively involved in her local Transplant Recipients International Organization (TRIO), where she helps to spread donor awareness through community involvement such as organizing 5K runs, working on TRIO’s annual Rose Parade float and speaking to others about her own experience with organ transplants.
“Anyone who wants to help other people can be a donor,” Pirozzi said. “You can sign up to be an organ donor when you apply for or renew your driver’s license or ID card at the DMV. All major religions support donations, and you can check ‘yes’ in confidence that your organs will only be considered after you are deceased.”
Pirozzi tries to remain positive about her prospects as an organ recipient.
“How can you not be positive after such an experience?” she said. “I don’t have a limit for the future. I don’t know where life will take me. Frankly the winter seems a lot better than it was before, and for now I’m going to wait for the spring of life.”
For more information about donating organs, visit www.onelegacy.org or www.donatelifecalifornia.org.