Four transplants later ...

I am still alive and studying at Pitt thanks to organ donors

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I have been given the gift of life four times. I don't know how I got so lucky, but I do not squander these gifts. Every day I think about the young woman named Tiffany whose heart beats in my chest. And every day I think about the kidney I received this past summer. Without a doubt these organ transplants saved my life -- many times over.

I was born with a congenital heart defect and had my first heart transplant at just three days old. For the first several years of my life, I was able to run and dance and play like a regular kid. But at one point a routine echocardiogram showed coronary artery disease of the small vessels and so I was listed for transplant. At age 9 I received my second heart transplant and life continued.

By my sophomore year in college, however, I started to feel really sluggish. I thought it was just stress from finals but another echo proved otherwise. I now had a blockage in the main artery of my heart and learned that my heart was creating antibodies to attack itself. My heart seemed to be on a suicide mission.

The doctors started me on a variety of medical regimens to delay a third transplant because they said my body would reject a new heart in my weakened condition. But after several weeks the doctors said I was stable enough to be listed for another transplant.

I had tremendous guilt about this because I had already received two hearts. How could I ask someone to help me again? But my doctors assured me I would not be listed unless I was a viable candidate. And I knew I wasn't done living.

The call came on Dec. 4, 2012, and we rushed to the hospital. Because of the scar tissue from my previous two heart surgeries, the operation was difficult and my recovery was extensive. I needed physical therapy and speech therapy post op. I couldn't eat or swallow. But the worst thing was coming out of surgery and being placed on dialysis because my kidneys hadn't survived the procedure.

Organ recipients have to take powerful immunosuppressant drugs to ward off infection and prevent rejection by the body. The medicine I've been on all my life eventually destroyed my kidneys and my only hope for a life free of dialysis was to receive a new kidney.

Just three months ago I received my new kidney and I feel fantastic. I now am living life as a typical college student -- albeit one with several surgical scars! But it's because of these scars and the incredible gifts given to me that I feel compelled to urge others to become an organ donor. There are so many people who need organ transplants.

In fact, there are more than 8,400 people in Pennsylvania on the waiting list for an organ. Every 19 hours, another person dies waiting.

That's why I support House Bill 30 (also called The Donate Life PA Act), which would help make more organs available for transplant through enhanced education in our medical and nursing schools as well as high schools and colleges.

Believe it or not, however, there are people in Pennsylvania who oppose this legislation, particularly the PA Coroners Association. One of the coroners' arguments is that acquiring more organs will get in the way of death investigations. But I know through my association with the Center for Organ Recovery & Education in Pittsburgh that if an organ is bruised, damaged or affected in any way in a death, that organ is not viable for transplantation. Furthermore, if there's anything in an organ that can be used for evidence in a death investigation, then the organ will not be given to someone else. It's that simple.

We can't let ignorance and misinformation get in the way of saving more lives. Anyone who's received an organ knows what a selfless act it is to say "yes" to organ donation. Please join me in encouraging our Allegheny County legislators to support House Bill 30.

As a transplant recipient, I live and breathe today because of organ donation. I believe with all my heart -- and Tiffany's heart, too -- that if there's a way to save more lives through increased organ donations, then we must do it.

Samantha Scholl, 21, is a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh and lives in Cranberry.

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