Georgia Transplant Foundation

It’s one of medicine’s most amazing advances: transplanting an organ from one body to another, saving a life that would otherwise be lost to disease. But it comes at a cost, literally – not only are there shortages of needed organs, but transplant recipients face serious, ongoing medical bills.

For the first year after a kidney transplant, the recipient will incur bills of about $80,000, says David Bakelman, executive director of the Georgia Transplant Foundation (www.gatransplant.org). For the recipient of a heart transplant, the number can reach $135,000. Anti-rejection and other medications alone can run $35,000.

The Georgia Transplant Foun-dation was created in 1992 after kidney transplant recipient Thomas Smith saw other patients unable to pay for the medical care they needed after receiving a new organ. “He literally saw people dying because they couldn’t afford post-transplant medication,” Bakelman says. (Transplant recipients must take drugs for the rest of their lives to keep their bodies from rejecting the new organ.)

Today the foundation, with a budget of $3.2 million, provides financial and educational support for people statewide undergoing or waiting for a transplant. There are some 6,000 transplant recipients in the state; another 1,600 on waiting lists. With offices in Atlanta, Macon, Columbus and Augusta, the organization is the primary source for transplant patient assistance in Georgia; a Savannah location is in the works.

“We’ve been really fortunate to gain support throughout the state,” says Bakelman, adding that the organization will provide more than $1 million in assistance in 2007. A number of high-profile events help the group raise money, chief among them being Tom Glavine’s Spring Training, which marked its 15th year in January. Attendees challenged professional athletes, including Braves players Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones, to games including air hockey, pool, poker, ping-pong and blackjack. The event regularly raises $500,000.

Another event, Embracing Life, is in its second year. Held in June at Alpharetta’s Dean Gardens, the event is sponsored by Applebee’s and raises money for the foundation and Mercy Flight air transportation. Attendees can tour the estate, enjoy food and music and bid on auction items.

In addition to grants for transplant recipients, the money raised funds programs such as Jump Start, which covers the cost for a recipient to work at a small business or large corporation part-time for 16 weeks. “A business can get a free employee,” Bakelman says. “It’s a great value proposition.” – Kenna Simmons







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