The Texas Organ Sharing Alliance plans to build a headquarters in the medical center.
The Texas Organ Sharing Alliance plans to build a $10 million headquarters at the medical center. Credit: Courtesy / Texas Organ Sharing Alliance

The Texas Organ Sharing Alliance, which helps procure organs for transplantation and advocates for organ donation, announced plans to build a new $10 million, 27,500-square-foot headquarters in the South Texas Medical Center to accommodate its growth.

One of 58 federally designated organ procurement organizations in the nation, the alliance serves Central and South Texas, working with donor families and organ recipients, encouraging registration for organ donation, and hosting events that connect donors and recipients. The alliance currently leases 10,000 square feet of space at the Cox Radio Building near the medical center.

“We work with [families of the deceased] about the potential for organ donation if the individual didn’t sign themselves up to be a donor,” said Edwina Garza, communications coordinator for the alliance’s southern region. “It’s rewarding to be able to work with families who are grieving, to be able to give them that chance,” Garza said, to “have something good come out of a difficult situation.”

More than 11 million Texans are registered organ donors, according to Donate Life Texas, the state’s official donor registry. Of the people registered, only about 10 percent will end up donating an organ because it depends on the health of an organ when it arrives at a medical facility, Garza said.

“When you talk about death, no one wants to talk about it, but organ donation is another end-of-life discussion,” and not everyone makes those decisions in advance, Garza said.

When Larry Kishur’s son Brian died from a brain aneurysm in 2007, he was not a registered organ donor. Volunteers from the alliance approached the family about donating Brian’s organs.

“It’s kind of a tough decision to make when its thrown on you like that, but we all knew that Brian was a very caring kind of guy,” Kishur said. “He cared about people. We decided organ sharing was the right decision, and he was able to give four gifts of life.”

The Texas Organ Sharing Alliance reports that nearly 80 percent of families approached by the organization consent to donation.

Georgina Ortiz was a 22-year-old college student when she was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease and told she would need a transplant. Unable to find a living donor that was a suitable match for her, Ortiz was put on the organ transplant waiting list, where she remained for seven years, completing dialysis three times a week to keep herself healthy.

“I was really ill, I was losing weight, and I was not energetic. I got on the transplant list right away, but I was nervous during that time,” she said. “You never know if you will get a donor, or if you will get even [sicker]. I just kept waiting, hoping I would get the call.”

On Aug. 12, 2015, Ortiz received that call. She packed her bags, headed to Methodist Transplant and Specialty Hospital, and underwent the seven-hour surgery that gave her a “second chance at life.”

“Now I’m perfectly fine,” Ortiz said. “The doctors said they knew right away that it had worked perfectly.”

Ortiz has not met the family members of the 32-year-old man whose kidney she received, but she knows he was already a registered organ donor at the time of his death. “I wish I could thank his family in person,” Ortiz said.

With the help of the Texas Organ Sharing Alliance, Kishur met a recipient of one of his son’s kidneys, an occasion he described as “the most surreal moment of [his] entire life.”

“When I met her, I asked her where the kidney was, and she pointed, and I asked her if I could touch it and she said yes, that it was on the right side. So I touched the right side of her ribcage and it was like this electric shock,” he said. “My son’s kidney was right there giving life to this lady.”

A rendering showing the Memorial Garden at the Texas Organ Sharing Alliance.
A rendering showing the Memorial Garden at the Texas Organ Sharing Alliance. Credit: Courtesy / Texas Organ Sharing Alliance

Organ donors like Kishur’s son will be honored in a special memorial garden at the Texas Organ Sharing Alliance’s new facility, alliance officials said Thursday. The garden will feature eight trees planted to represent the eight lives a single organ donor can save, with plaques listing donors’ names. The new building, scheduled to be completed in early 2020, also will provide more space for educational and supportive services.

“I think this new building will be a blessing,” Kishur said. “The memorial wall will give me and other families the opportunity to see our loved ones remembered through their name, their date of passing. It will be a place where you can go and reflect on a loved one. That’s going to benefit me and my family.”

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.