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Friday, Aug 22, 2014
Steve Otto Columns

Otto: Tom Thrasher’s heart extends life for many at TGH

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Wild Bill Minahan and his wife, Martha, will justly be the couple honored Thursday night.

But it was Tom Thrasher who came to mind when I heard about the National Organization for Transplant Enlightenment’s (N.O.T.E.) banquet at the Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club.

N.O.T.E. was Thrasher’s idea, and you can understand why.

Back in 1986 he became the first successful heart transplant recipient in Florida, getting his transplant at Tampa General. Those were dramatic days in transplant programs. The first successful heart transplant anywhere had been in 1967 and the patient had only lived days.

There were still great risks, especially with drugs and organ rejection possibilities.

But Thrasher, who would live another 10 years, was determined to show that not only had medicine advanced to the point where heart transplants could extend life, he wanted to demonstrate you could also live a complete life. He did a few stunts, such as jumping out of an airplane, to prove he could do things as nutty as the next guy.

Probably his riskiest stunt was showing up at my annual chili contest (the next one by the way is coming up Nov. 16 at “Smoke on the River”) with three other guys with an all-transplant vegan chili.

I have to tell you it was awful stuff in one way but the greatest in another.

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It was Thrasher who saw the need for an organization that would become a support group for all organ recipients, their families and caregivers. He put up the money to establish N.O.T.E.

The group is made up entirely of volunteers, many of whom are organ recipients. They provide financial assistance, especially in the first months after a transplant when financial programs and grants are being set up to handle the incredibly expensive drugs involved.

I picked up a few numbers that I think are extraordinary and say something about how far we have come. These statistics come from Tampa General Hospital, which works with the outstanding LifeLink organization. It has not only one of the busiest transplant programs in the United States, but also among the best outcomes.

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Today more than 3,000 recipients of organ transplants at TGH over the past 28 years reside in the area.

There are three kidney transplant recipients who have been living with their new kidneys for more than 35 years and another 14 who have had new kidneys for more than 30 years.

There is now a heart transplant recipient who has had his more than 25 years and 11 who are 20 years and counting.

There is a liver recipient with more than 20 years and someone with a pancreas from a program that only began in 2001.

As of July 31, Tampa General had performed 7,931 organ transplants, one of the great medical success stories around.

I think Wild Bill Minahan has had his kidney for going on 28 years. I do know that Minahan, the great former coach at Jesuit and Plant and not a bad quarterback at the University of Tampa, and his wife, Martha, have spent years giving back, holding annual fundraisers for kidney donations. They well deserve Thursday’s first lifetime achievement award that will be named in their honor.

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