MADISON – It's safe to assume the people who came to the Overture Center Tuesday to listen to Dr. Hans Sollinger (pictured) speak about organ donation
and advances in transplant
didn't expect him to begin with mention of a pornographic bookstore.
With a wry grin Sollinger, the chairman of UW Health's transplant services and long considered a pioneer in the field, took his place behind the podium and said, "I have to tell you a story."
He then proceeded to relay the tale of the Mall Bookstore, which in the 1970s peddled its salacious wares in the very spot where the Overture Center now stands. Sollinger, who came to Madison from Munich in 1975 to complete a post-doctoral fellowship in immunobiology and a surgical residency, said his wife, Mary, couldn't stand the idea of such a place existing so close to Madison's social and economic heart.
"My wife decided this can't go on," Dr. Sollinger said. "So she bought the building and didn't renew the (bookstore's) lease."
For her initiative, Dr. Sollinger said, Mary was called "The Mother Teresa of State Street."
The point of the story mirrored the theme of Dr. Sollinger's talk – transformation.
Since his arrival in Madison 33 years ago Dr. Sollinger has witnessed – and played a large role in – a dramatic transformation in the fields of organ donation and transplantation.
Scientific advances such as the "UW Solution," a cold storage organ preservation solution developed at the University of Wisconsin by the late Dr. Folkert Belzer and James Southard, has made transplant a more viable and versatile medical option.
Public awareness initiatives such as the Gift of Life Medal Ceremony, during which Wisconsin's governor recognizes the generosity and courage of organ donors and their families with a ceremony at the Governor's Mansion, and the "Got Your Dot?" campaign have resulted in Wisconsin convincing more than half of its residents to indicate their willingness to be organ donors.
Sollinger pointed to UW Hospital and Clinics' conversion rate – the percentage of possible donor organs that end up being used for transplants – as evidence of the tireless work by the UW Hospital and Clinics Organ Procurement Organization (UWHC OPO). Last year the UWHC OPO announced an 83 percent conversion rate, best in the country and well above the national average of 60 percent.
But perhaps the most convincing evidence of the importance of donation and transplantation came from what Dr. Sollinger called his case study. "I'm going to assume the role of an intern," Dr. Sollinger said, "and present a medical history to you."
Dr. Sollinger then told the audience about a 14-year-old girl admitted to the hospital with a severe case of jaundice. Her condition deteriorated rapidly, and within a few days it was clear to hospital staff that her survival depended upon a liver transplant.
"I could tell you the end of the story but I'm not going to," Dr. Sollinger said, and asked the girl's mother to complete the account.
"Miracles happen here in Madison," the mother began, and revealed the details of the miracle that saved her daughter's life.
(The family requested to not be identified for this story.)
The girl was immediately placed on the transplant waiting list, but no suitable organ was available. During what the mother described ruefully as "that long weekend" UW Hospital staff worked to keep her daughter alive while the mother and her husband "stood in the hallway, watching, waiting and hoping."
With no other viable option, the transplant team decided that the girl would need a live liver donation, with her father the donor. Two surgical teams worked quickly to prepare both patients, and the operation was a success. The girl received the liver she needed and her father recovered completely.
She returned to school this past year, on her 15th birthday, no less. "I'm not sure it was an irony she completely appreciated," the mother said with a laugh.
On that day the girl received a birthday card with a simple, three-word sentiment. Best birthday ever. "We couldn't agree more," the mother said.
This story demonstrates both the promise of organ donation and transplantation, and the urgent need for more attention and progress. Today the girl is finishing up her school year and no doubt looking forward to summer vacation. As of this morning the United Network for Organ Sharing announced a roster of 99,079 on its transplant waiting list. Dr. Sollinger said that number could triple by 2020.
"The gap is getting larger. We have to work very hard to increase donation," he said. "We've made tremendous progress, but we've got a long way to go."
Date Published: 11/26/2008