NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — A decade ago Matthew Ragaini was diagnosed with a liver disease that slowly caused his organ to fail.
“The illness impacted my life in all sorts of ways,” Matthew explained. “I couldn’t do pretty much anything by myself. I was always tired. I couldn’t eat so I had to get fed through a tube.”
He was put on an organ transplant waiting list.
“I basically thought that my husband was dying in front of my eyes,” recalled Matthew’s wife Jennifer Ragaini.
“You get to a point where you’re just so depressed and you think nothing’s going to happen and pretty much that’s going to be it — that your life is going to be over,” Matthew said.
But it wasn’t over. Two years ago, Jennifer stepped in to save her husband. She was tested at Yale New Haven Hospital to see if her organ was a match, and it was.
“When it comes to the organ donor transplant program here at Yale, what separates us from many others is our unique interest and expertise in doing living donor transplantation,” said David Mulligan, M.D., the director of the Yale New Haven Transplantation Center.
Dr. Mulligan was part of the team that transplanted a portion of Jennifer’s liver into Matthew.
“It regenerates both in the donor who gives up the part and the recipient who receives the part,” Dr. Mulligan explained.
There is a critical need for organ donation in the United States.
“We have over 118,000 patients waiting for life saving transplants and only about 7,000 plus organ donors available to donate from organ procurement organizations around the country,” Dr. Mulligan said.
But living donor transplants could be the answer to solving the organ donation shortage.
“Those organs from a living donor are the best kind of a transplant a recipient can ever get and as long as it’s done safely by a center with a lot of experience,” Dr. Mulligan explained. “Having a living donor transplant allows us to do the transplant earlier … and it also has the best immediate organ function so that we don’t go through that delay before the organ function kicks in.”
Dr. Mulligan says don’t rule yourself out as a potential living donor because of your age or health.
“The bottom line is to let the professionals decide if being an organ donor or tissue donor is appropriate for you,” he said. “We have the ability to know with the experience whether or not you’re safe and your organs and tissues can be safely used for transplantation or not.”
Since the surgery, Matthew has made a complete 180.
“Today I feel great,” he said. “I haven’t felt this good in jeez I want to say over eight, ten years. It’s just unbelievable having to come back to feel this way, to feel this great. I never even realized how sick I was.”
For the Ragaini’s, the experience has brought them closer than ever.
“I feel like now that we met that god put us together for a reason,” Jennifer explained. “We were meant to be together.”
“She’s my everything,” Matthew said. “She’s my soul mate. It just means a lot to me.”
To learn how to become an organ donor, visit YNHH.org/OrganDonation.