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Cross-country walk seeks ‘altruistic’ organ donors

Photo by William Sacco
Sukru Emre (left) and Harry Kiernan kicked off Kiernan’s “Walk of 2012” on the Yale-New Haven Hospital grounds on March 19. Kiernan, a Vietnam veteran, firefighter, and liver and kidney donor, is walking across the U.S. to raise awareness about organ donation.

Donating part of his liver and a kidney to two different recipients he had never met was not enough for Harry Kiernan. The Vietnam veteran and firefighter is now taking his efforts to raise awareness about organ donation—including so-called altruistic donations like his, in which recipients are not related or known to the donor—many steps further by walking across the United States.

Kiernan’s 3,300-mile journey began March 18 in Glastonbury, Conn., and he reached Yale-New Haven Hospital (YNHH) the next day, where a ceremony for “Walk of 2012” took place under the Donate Life flag near the hospital’s entrance. Sukru H. Emre, M.D., professor of surgery and pediatrics and the transplant surgeon who performed Kiernan’s liver donation surgery, was on hand to wish Kiernan well and commend him for his generosity.

Emre presented Kiernan with an appreciation plaque from the Yale-New Haven Transplantation Center (YNHTC) on behalf of patients on the transplant waiting list for his dedication and service.

“Mr. Kiernan is one of our heroes. He saved two patients’ lives by donating one of his kidneys and a part of his liver,” said Emre, chief of the Section of Transplantation Surgery and YNHTC director (donated parts of the liver grow back in donors and grow to the proper size in recipients). Emre pointed out that, like Kiernan, many altruistic donors are veterans, firefighters, or policemen. “These individuals were on front lines in many life-and-death situations and they know how to sacrifice for others,” he said.

In the U.S., only two percent of organ donations from living patients are altruistic donations. With each step he takes from east to west, Kiernan, founder of the National Living Organ Donors Foundation, hopes to increase the number of organ donations, from both deceased and living donors, nationwide.

After leaving New Haven, Kiernan set off for New York City and expects to arrive in Los Angeles during the first week of July.