Organ Donor Gives Transplant Patient the Gift of Life and More

With a new kidney and pancreas, Scripps patient Stacy Morrison is free of diabetes

A physician stands in an outdoor setting with a white lab coat and blue stethoscope.

For 45 years, Stacy Morrison has been living with Type 1 diabetes, a disease in which cells in the pancreas stop producing insulin. Without insulin, a person’s blood sugars become elevated. Over time, this can damage vital organs such as the heart, kidneys and eyes.

Three years ago, Stacy learned that his kidneys were failing, and he was put on the transplant list at the Scripps Center for Organ and Cell Transplantation at Scripps Green Hospital. Last September, Stacy received a call from the center saying he had 30 minutes to get there — a donor kidney and pancreas had just become available.

“My wife wasn’t home so I had to leave a message for her on the machine,” Stacy said. “I told her, ’I’m getting a kidney and pancreas transplant. I love you.’”

Understanding organ donation in the U.S.

At age 64, Stacy became one of only 74 people in San Diego County to receive a simultaneous kidney/pancreas transplant. To date, he has never required dialysis or needed a single unit of insulin.

“This has been fantastic,” Stacy says. “Since the transplant, I haven’t needed any medicine for my diabetes. It’s [the Scripps Center for Organ and Cell Transplantation] quite a program.”

Stacy knows he is extremely fortunate. The odds of getting two healthy donor organs were clearly stacked against him. His transplant could not have been performed without a cadaveric donor pancreas and kidney, and there is a critical shortage of these and other organs in the United States.

Cadaveric donors are people who have been determined brain dead and who have previously decided to donate their organs, or people whose families have consented for them to be donors, after they died.

There are only roughly 6,000 cadaveric donors per year in the United States — yet more than 80,000 Americans are on the national waiting list for lifesaving organ transplants. Only one out of three on the waiting list will ever receive a transplant, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

Living organ donors save lives

The good news is that more individuals are considering living organ donation, where a single organ — or part of an organ — is removed from someone who is still alive.

“Living donation does not change life expectancy, and the risk of organ failure is extremely small to the donor,” says Jonathan Fisher, MD, who performed Stacy’s transplant surgery.

The organ most commonly donated by a living donor is the kidney. People usually have two kidneys, and only one is needed to live a normal life. When the kidney is removed, the single normal kidney will increase in size to compensate for the loss of the donated kidney.

Parts of other organs, including the lung, liver and pancreas, are now being transplanted from living donors.

Thanks to the selfless act of an individual who died, Stacy has a functioning, healthy kidney and pancreas. He is free of diabetes, and the progression of its negative effects on his body has halted.

“I feel great, and I am grateful for the donor,” he says. “I’m looking forward to the day I can thank the family.”