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Double-Lung Transplant Patient To Carry Olympic Torch


When Kurt Penner received his double-lung transplant back in 2002, little did he know that he would be part of the Olympics. Now, at age 60, Penner will be carrying the Olympic torch in Woodstock, Ontario, on December 27 to highlight the need for organ and tissue donations.

Kurt Penner received his double-lung transplant through the Trillium Gift of Life Network within days of dying of emphysema. The decision to perform a double-lung transplant versus a single depends mainly on the type of lung disease an individual has. Patients who have lung disease that involves infection (e.g., cystic fibrosis) typically undergo a double-lung procedure. Individuals who have damaged but not infected lungs (e.g., emphysema) may have a single lung replaced, but double-lung surgeries are also performed. Patients who have pulmonary hypertension do better if they have a double-lung transplant.

This is not the first time Kurt Penner has been associated with the Olympics. He is a veteran of the World Transplant Games Federation, which was established more than 20 years ago to provide a platform for transplant athletes to demonstrate their physical success following transplant surgery and to raise awareness of the need for organ donation. On December 17, 2009, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) accepted the World Transplant Games Federation as an IOC recognized organization.

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On December 27, Kurt Penner will carry the Olympic torch for 300 meters through the streets of Woodstock, Ontario, with the hope that the public will consider registering as tissue and organ donors. Although Penner will be appealing for people to register with their local Service Ontario Health Card Services or other outreach centers, his appeal is really a universal one, as the need for donated organs knows no boundaries.

According to the Trillum Gift of Life Network, one organ and tissue donor can save up to eight lives and improve as many as 75 more. Organs and tissues suitable for donation include kidney, lung, heart, liver, pancreas, intestines, corneas, middle ear, skin, heart valves, bone, veins, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, blood, platelets, and bone marrow.

Tens of thousands of people in the United States are awaiting organ transplants: as of December 15, 2009, there were 105,280 people on the waiting list, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network and organdonor.gov. From January 1 to September 30, 2009, 21,423 transplants were performed, and there were 10,916 donors.

When double-lung transplant patient Kurt Penner passes through the streets of Woodstock, Ontario, he will be carrying more than the Olympic torch: he will hopefully be lighting up the minds and hearts of individuals and raising their awareness of the need for organ and tissue donors.

Columbia University Medical Center
Trillium Gift of Life Network
World Transplant Games Federation