Wednesday, September 03, 2008

5 years after transplant, 12-year-old is golden

Every time I read a story about how an organ transplant has transformed a life it warms my heart. This is a wonderful example.

Abby Uranga of Scio Township wears the gold medal she won in the 25-meter freestyle swim for girls 12 to 14 years old at the U.S. Transplant Games in July in PIttsburgh. With her are her parents, Lorie and John, and little brother Nick, 7. Photo: Leisa Thompson

From the Ann Arbor News, Michigan:
By John Mulcahy

If gold medals were awarded for beautiful smiles, Abby Uranga would probably win one every day.

Abby, 12, of Scio Township, has a lot to smile about. She is healthy, has a loving family, and is able to do many things she loves, such as swimming, riding horses at camp and spending time with friends.

She also has a gold medal, but not for smiling. Abby won her medal this summer at the U.S. Transplant Games in Pittsburgh in the 25-meter free-style swim for 12- to 14-year-old girls.

For her to accomplish such a feat seemed nearly impossible five years ago.

She is afflicted with a genetic condition called Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, which caused her liver to make insufficient amounts of a necessary protein and threatened her life. She went on a waiting list and received a new liver in August 2003 at the University of Michigan Medical Center, when she was 7 years old.

That was followed by months of recuperation and special care when she returned to St. Francis of Assisi elementary school. Teachers had to alert Abby's parents whenever another student got sick to help protect her from infection.

But as she recovered, Abby was eager to get active. She joined a school soccer team during her second year back at school and also took gymnastic classes.

This summer, Abbey attended Camp Michitanki, designed for transplant recipients 7 to 15 years old. Created in 2003 by several transplant families, the U-M Transplant Center, several pharmaceutical companies, volunteers and the YMCA, the camp in Oscoda offers activities such as swimming, canoeing and horseback riding. The camp provides medical supervision to assure participants take their medications and have other medical needs met.

"It's just fun to be with kids who are going through the same things you are going through at this point," Abby said of the camp.

There have been setbacks. Abby spent a total of four weeks in the hospital two years ago, and she must constantly be cautious of infections. But overall her life has been good.

"I haven't been in the hospital in two years, and I've been really healthy," Abby said.
Abby's parents, John and Lorie Uranga, who also have a 7-year-old son, Nick, said Abby's experience has taught them a lesson about life.

"Something that started back then is learning to enjoy the moments of life," Lorie Uranga said. "You just don't take it for granted any more."

One of those moments was at the recent Transplant Games.

"To see (Abby's) smile when she came up out of the water and knew she won, that was pretty special," John Uranga said.

It was special to Abby too. "I love swimming and was excited to do something," she said.

The games are sponsored by the National Kidney Foundation for transplant recipients. This year, more than 1,300 athletes competed in 12 sports.

The Urangas think it's important to share their experience and Abby's story to encourage more people to donate organs for transplant.

"What we can do is talk about how we were given the gift of life," Lorie Uranga said. "It is important for us to tell the story of what a great kid (Abby) is."

About 3,000 people in Michigan are waiting for organ transplants of all types, according to Gift of Life Michigan, the state's non-profit organ and tissue donation program.

In 2007, there were 862 organ transplants in Michigan. Nationally, almost 100,000 people are waiting for organ transplants.

Abby and her family are just beginning to write to her donor family - whose identity they do not know - expressing their desire to meet family members if they so desire. The letters will be submitted to Gift of Life Michigan to be forwarded to the donor family.

As she looks ahead, Abby knows that the most important things for her health are to continue taking the medications that keep her body from rejecting her liver, to eat healthy food, get exercise and live a healthy lifestyle. She is entering sixth grade at St. Francis of Assisi school this year and has been looking forward to it.

"I'm excited to go back to school and see all my old friends," she said.

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