Maza Commits Montco To The Promotion Of Organ Transplants The County Commissioner Spoke Of A Heart-valve Transplant That Saved His Life Two Years Ago.

Posted: December 16, 1999

Two years ago last week, Jim Maza raced through the county courthouse. Maza, a lawyer, never walks. His mind and mouth run, and his body catches up.

But in December 1997, his body fell behind. His arm felt numb, but he was too busy to care and ignored it. He shook his arm in attempts to rouse it.

Later that week, a doctor told Maza that he was dying. His heart was beating double-time to compensate for a failing valve, but was pumping only about 50 percent of the blood his body needed.

Doctors at Abington Memorial Hospital told him he needed a valve transplant operation immediately.

Maza, a politician, tried a compromise. He told the doctor he could undergo surgery in, say, April.

Now, the doctor told him.

On the morning of Dec. 10, Maza, with a 50 percent chance of survival, said goodbye to his two boys, William and Alex, at the door of his Marlborough Township home.

Maza, 47, now a Montgomery County commissioner and a successful transplant recipient, said yesterday: "I call my time extra time because I should have died two years ago."

But not everyone is so fortunate.

That is why Maza yesterday announced a partnership between the county Health Department and Gift of Life, the Philadelphia region's organ and tissue transplant network, that will commit the county to promotion of organ transplants.

The campaign will include inserting organ-donation applications in county employee paychecks, urging local employers to do the same, and having county Health Department employees talk in schools about the importance of organ donation.

According to Gift of Life, an average of 11 people in the nation die daily while awaiting organ transplants and 3,100 people in this region are awaiting heart transplants.

Since 1995, organ donations have risen 60 percent in Pennsylvania. Montgomery County ranks sixth in the state for organ donors; 40.29 percent of drivers in the county have signed up for the state driver's license donor registry. The totals are 44.44 percent in Chester County, 41.33 percent in Bucks, and 38.25 in Delaware County. Philadelphia's rate is the lowest in the state, slightly more than 25 percent.

During the news conference, Howard Nathan, president of Gift of Life, called those numbers a start. He said the program initiated by Maza and Gift of Life's current advertising campaign would help raise awareness and increase the number of donors.

Nathan said he hoped that the schoolchildren and county employees who talk to their families about organ donation.

"It's very important to discuss this with your family," he said. "That conversation could be the key to saving someone's life."

In fact, he said, one donor could give life to 50 people.

Donald Milligan, 45, of Norristown, one of several organ recipients at the news conference, said he was living proof. He received a heart from a 14-year-old New Jersey girl a few years ago and said he would always be grateful to the family that approved the donation.

"They had the heart and the conscience to let that heart live on," he said. "I want donors to know they give the gift of life. I know my life is changed forever."

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