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Health Team

Organ donation saves lives but many don't register

Posted April 19
Updated April 20

Gary Singlton knows that organ donations can save lives.

Singleton, now 54 years old, was a maintenance worker for the Morganton school system more than 20 years ago when simple tasks grew more difficult. He was short of breath, and easily fatigued, so he saw his doctor.

"He said, 'You've got the lungs of an 80-year-old-man,'"Singleton said. "I was 33 at the time."

A specialist diagnosed Singleton with a rare inherited disorder called Alpha 1 Antitrypsin Deficiency.

By 2002, he went on waiting list for a lung transplant.

Singleton took two trips to Duke University Hospital thinking a matching donor was available, but neither time worked out. Then, during a third trek to the hospital on March 13, 2003, Singleton found his match.

"The coordinator came in, and she said, 'It's a go,'" Singleton said. "From there on it was just a blur."

When he woke up from surgery, he says he could breathe without assistance for the first time in many years.

One thought has stayed with him.

"My lungs came from a 16-year-old boy," Singleton said. "It's always amazed me that a mother could sit down, in the worst moment of her life, losing their 16-year-old child, and saying, 'Yes.'"

That decision can be made simpler for a family if a person registers as a donor on their driver's license, registers online or simply lets their loved ones know about their wishes, says Taylor Anderton from Carolina Donor Services.

"Ninety percent of people nationally think donation is a wonderful thing," Anderton said. "Unfortunately, only about 50 percent of people actually register as donors."

Since his transplant, Singleton has enjoyed new gifts of life, including more time with his wife and seeing his 10-year-old granddaughter, Kinsey.

"Without someone saying 'Yes' to organ donation, none of that's ever possible," Singleton said.

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