David Bruce: Transplant Stories

As Christmas 2009 drew near, Dawn Pflughaupt, age 37, was happy because she was cancer-free. A bone marrow transplant with her brother, Brock Pflughaupt, as donor had cured her leukemia. She had found out that she had leukemia after feeling ill. Dawn said, “I had bruises and was tired, but I thought that was from working in the automotive industry.” She worked for Chrysler in Sedalia, MO. She went to the hospital and was at first diagnosed with a viral infection, but soon she received a telephone call. She said, “They told me I might bleed out if I didn’t come to the hospital.” That was when she learned that she had leukemia. One bad thing was that she had not spoken with most members of her family for over a decade, the result of some bad life choices that resulted in a prison term for her for selling marijuana. She said, “I was a good kid gone bad. I was on the wrong path, and I thought I was big, bad, tough, and strong.”
However, Brock, her brother, kept talking to her. She said, “He was always checking up on me, and he always let me know when there was a graduation or wedding.” Her father had died in 2005, but the other members of her family rallied around her. Dawn said, “That was hard: Knowing I was sick and I never talked to him before he died.” She began chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Her sister, Tara Wolfe, stayed by her side. Dawn said, “We rekindled our relationship, and Tara dropped everything to be with me.” Tara volunteered to be a bone-marrow donor for Dawn, but she was not a match. Things were going badly for Dawn, who said, “It was rough and hard. I had no immune system, and I was crying blood and delusional.” Brock then volunteered to be a bone-marrow donor for her. Dawn said, “Brock and I are like twins, as much as we look alike.” He was a 99.98 percent match, the transplant took place, and it cured Dawn’s leukemia. Before the transplant took place, Brock endured a series of injections that turned his platelets into white blood cells. Dawn said, “He was so stiff and sore. He was walking around like the Michelin Man.” She added, “He’s my hero.” Dawn and Brock’s mother, Jacqui, said, “I’m not one bit surprised by my son’s actions. It’s in his DNA.” She added, “His father would be so proud.” Brock said simply, “That’s just what family does.” Dawn is now cancer-free: “There are no words to describe how I feel. All I can do to thank Brock is appreciate life and live it to the fullest.” The family members are now close. Jacqui said, “Families have ins and outs. Sometimes God taps you on the shoulder, and sometimes He takes a baseball bat to the side of your head. We got the baseball bat.” Brock registered for the National Bone Marrow Registry. He said about donating his bone marrow, “It hurt, but it won’t deter me from donating again.”

In 2007, Stephen Wilson gave his sister, Andrea, a gift that will help allow her to see her children, Andrew, age 12, and Laura, age 15, grow to adulthood: He gave her one of his kidneys. Both Stephen and Andrea are from Westerhope, Newcastle, England. Andrea, age 42, said, “I’m just so grateful. I am forever in his debt. He’s given me a future with my children. We have always been close, but we have a special bond now.” Twelve years previously, Andrea’s kidneys were damaged during her second pregnancy when she suffered from pre-eclampsia. In 2006, her health began to rapidly fail. Andrea said, “The doctors said my kidneys were failing, and I was put on the waiting list for a transplant. They said the average wait in Newcastle was two years, but they had to find a kidney that was a perfect match and that could take much longer.” Every night for eight hours, she was attached to a dialysis machine. She said, “It was really scary. I was getting worried that I wouldn’t get one [a transplant].” Family members and friends volunteered to be tested, and Stephen turned out to be a perfect match. Andrea said, “He jumped at the chance to help me. I kept asking him if he was sure and saying he didn’t have to, but he was determined to do it.” She added, “If it hadn’t been for Stephen, I could have waited years and years for a kidney. And the longer you are on dialysis, the more ill you get.” Stephen said, “Having one kidney doesn’t make me feel any different, but I think me and Andrea are closer now because we went through this together. I have sacrificed part of myself, but after seeing how ill Andrea was and how worried her children were, it’s worth it.” Andrea said, “I want people to be aware that there is a real shortage of kidneys. You never think about it until it happens to you. But it can happen to any one of us. I feel so lucky that Stephen was there to help me.”

In June 2003, Jennifer, a 33-year-old trial lawyer, impressed her aunt, NewYork Times syndicated columnist Maureen Dowd, by showing her a scar. The scar was from a liver transplant. Jennifer had donated half of her liver in order to save the life of her uncle, who is Maureen’s brother. Maureen called the scar the “most beautiful scar I’ve seen. A huge stapled gash on her stomach, shaped like the Mercedes logo. A red badge of courage.” Living donors are rare, and Jennifer is one of them. If all went well after the transplant, her liver grew back to its normal size, as should the part of her liver that was transplanted into her uncle’s body. Maureen was so impressed by Jennifer’s courageous act that she filled out a form allowing her organs to be harvested for transplant after her death. After all, she wrote, “If Jennifer is brave enough to do it alive, how can I be scared of doing it dead?”

It is infinitely better to transplant a heart than to bury it to be devoured by worms.” — Christiaan Barnard


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce



John Ford’s The Broken Heart: A Retelling, by David Bruce


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