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Event highlights hope, heroism of organ donation

May. 2, 2013, 8:56 AM

Laura and Chris Hatfield, who had a liver transplant in 2011, with their children Rachel, 7, and Jackson, 3, during the annual Donate Life Vanderbilt Flag Raising Ceremony. (Photo by Joe Howell)

The old adage about the third time being the charm proved to be true for one Vanderbilt University Medical Center patient.

Chris Hatfield, 37, of Murfreesboro, had come pretty close to getting a liver transplant in 2010. Twice, as a matter of fact, but each time, the donor liver wasn’t suitable for transplantation.

Diagnosed at age 18 with primary sclerosing cholangitis, a progressive liver disease, it wasn’t until the spring of 2011 that his health began rapidly deteriorating. He was moved to the top position on the liver transplant waiting list. It was Good Friday and transplant coordinators told him to prepare for a call at any time. The call never came.

During his appointment the following Monday, Hatfield recalls being encouraged by his physician. He admitted that it was getting tougher and tougher.

As the Hatfields were leaving the clinic, a nurse called to them to wait. The team had a liver. The couple sat in the waiting room anxious for more information.

“With the past no-go’s, we were prepared for this not to happen,” said Hatfield. “But you never give up hope. After what seemed like an eternity, the nurse came back with good news. We were told to return home and wait for their call.”

Hatfield was admitted later that evening. As midnight approached, the pair wondered the reason for the delay.

Threatening storms were the culprit.

“It was that time of the year when our weather could be really bad,” said Hatfield. “We got a call into my room. My donor liver was stuck in Knoxville. The long line of storms had grounded the plane.

“Then, when they were finally cleared and halfway here, the Nashville airport was shut down. The plane had to land in McMinnville, which is about an hour and a half drive, on a good day.

“An ambulance met the team and they got to Vanderbilt with a police escort.”

At 6 a.m. on April 26, 2011, Hatfield received his new liver.

He was able to share his story during the annual Donate Life Vanderbilt Flag Raising Ceremony on April 25, which celebrates organ donor families, living donors and the staff who care for transplant patients at Vanderbilt.

Chris Hatfield shares a moment at the podium with C. Wright Pinson, MBA, M.D. (Photo by Joe Howell)

Hatfield is very involved in Donate Life events throughout the Midstate. His message to potential donors:

“It is amazing how much hope people who decide to be donors give to those of us in need,” he said. “I also tell people that when they make the decision now, it one less thing that your family has to figure out during a time of grieving.

“My donor family said it made them proud that their son was able to help other people to live. Without my liver, my two young children would have never gotten to know me.”

Nationally, about 117,000 people are waiting for organ transplants, nearly 2,500 of those live in Tennessee. Every 18 minutes a patient on the list will die, while a new name is added to the list every 10 minutes.

“Donating organs represents the best of what one human being has to offer to another — compassion, generosity, hope, and it is truly heroic,” said C. Wright Pinson, MBA, M.D., deputy vice chancellor for Health Affairs and CEO of the Vanderbilt Health System, who served as director of the Vanderbilt Transplant Center for 18 years. “It is possible to create life, continue life and give life through organ donation.”

The online donor registry can be found at

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