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Lifesaving venture begins with a call

Tim McCabe was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis

Tim McCabe was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis in March 2020. Credit: Raychel Brightman

The story Newsday published Tuesday about Tim McCabe, a 51-year-old North Bellmore father and husband in need of a liver transplant, included information vital to solving McCabe’s dilemma.

It was the phone number, 212-263-8134, at which people can contact the NYU Langone Transplant Institute to begin the process of enrolling to donate a kidney or part of a liver.

If the right person begins the process, gets through the screening and donates, McCabe will likely live. If that never happens, he'll probably die.

Already the recipient of two kidney transplants, one from his wife, McCabe has been forced into retirement by a laundry list of maladies that began in his teens, with primary sclerosing cholangitis, a disease of the bile ducts, the current pressing concern.

So I called and started the screening process, but did so knowing I'm probably not his answer. I’ll happily donate to McCabe or anyone else in similar need if approved, but folks perched on my family tree are sought more for studies on early mortality than we are prized for our raggedy parts.

My organs are well-rested, and have legendary resumes, but they have high miles, too. For the 20 years before I quit drinking in 2003, my liver and kidneys processed liquor like Amazon ships books: efficiently, at high volume, with little concern for the broader consequences.

I also received, as a 49th birthday present last year, a diagnosis of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a genetic overgrowth of the heart muscle that could even land me on a transplant list some day.

Dad died at 55. Mom’s last words may well have been, "Oh, wow, my first Social Security check!" as she threw off the mortal coil after 65 years and 42 days.

But I’ll sincerely try to donate.

When I called I reached Patricia Tabamo, the living donor coordinator at NYU Langone Health. She emailed paperwork which I was able to complete by autofilling "yes" under family history for any known disease save Mad Cow (Aunt Bessie was more irritable than mad) and babesios which, it turns out, has nothing to do with being a big baby.

Tabamo also answered my many questions, or led me to resources that could.

There are about 107,000 people waiting for transplants, and according to Tabamo, about one-fifth of the people who approach her office about donating are approved.

That suggests the live donor needs of the United States could be met by 600,000 people willing to donate a kidney or liver, assuming one-fifth made the cut.

Such donations are invasive, and not entirely without risk. But 10 years after surgery, a liver or kidney donor is 15% less likely to have died in that decade than the general population.

If you give part of your liver, it grows back in eight weeks. If you give one of your two healthy kidneys, you’re unlikely to ever miss it.

In the United States, 39,000 people die of gunshot wounds annually, and 38,000 are killed in traffic accidents. Tremendous effort goes into reducing those numbers, often with little effect.

But if enough of us agree to donate organs, we could save the vast majority of the 107,000 candidates, including McCabe.

The world is defined by the actions of individuals. The ones who go to great lengths to help others are not from some special group or class.

Any of us can join their ranks by calling 212-263-8134.

Columnist Lane Filler's opinions are his own.