Archdiocesan disabilities advocate seeks a kidney

By Christine Bordelon, Clarion Herald

Janet Pesce has been an advocate for people with disabilities for a long time and is currently co-chairperson of the reorganized, 16-member Archdiocese of New Orleans Commission for Persons with Disabilities. 

Pesce, a diabetic since age 10, has been a teacher – first in the school classroom, and then, after diabetic retinopathy caused eyesight failure, taught living skills at the Jewish Community Center and  Lighthouse for the Blind. She’s also conducted classes for the visually impaired at nursing homes.

Long-term diabetes has impacted Pesce’s organs. Thirteen years ago, she required a pancreas transplant. Now, she’s on kidney dialysis and on Tulane Transplant Institute’s list for a kidney.

A friend suggested a novel way to find a kidney donor –  placing magnetic signs on cars with the words, “Kidney needed. (504) 455-6801. Blood Type A or O.” Her friend had seen a similar sign on the back of a truck saying, “Save a Life. Donate an Organ.”

Pesce has printed 60 signs so far, distributing many to friends and fellow choir members at St. Philip Neri Church, where she and husband Jerry have been parishioners for 47 years. The signs have generated several donor calls.

“I guess this comes from my teaching background,” she said. “I like to educate, and this would involve me and might get people interested in helping.”

Can live with one kidney

The teacher in Pesce also wants the word out that being a living donor isn’t as hard as it used to be and can help the more than 2,000 Louisianians waiting list for an organ transplant. 

“I don’t think people realize that organs like kidneys or particularly your liver can be donated, and it doesn’t (negatively) affect you,” Pesce said.

The process to determine if someone is an eligible donor begins with blood and urine tests that check for kidney function and signs of disease. 

According to Tulane Transplant Institute’s brochure “All You Need to Know About Living Kidney Donation,” the average person has six to eight times the amount of kidney needed for normal kidney function. Donating a kidney won’t affect normal kidney functions or create a higher risk for kidney problems. Those with the universal O blood type can donate to individuals needing a kidney of any blood type. The two, common transplant procedures include: an open nephrectomy (requiring a six-inch incision, three hours surgery, 3-5 day hospital stay, six weeks’ recovery) or the minimally invasive laparoscopy nephrectomy (three small incisions in abdomen and a slightly larger incision, a two-hour surgery, 2-3 day stay, 2-6 weeks full recovery). 

“The kidney is one of the few organs that you can donate before you die,” said Kirsten Heintz, director of marketing and communications for LOPA, the Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency (LOPA), an independent, not-for-profit organ and tissue recovery agency in Louisiana. “Most organs – heart, lungs, pancreas and intestines – come from deceased donors.”

Heintz said individuals can survive and thrive with just one kidney. In New Orleans, Tulane is one of three institutions that take living donations, Heintz said. The others are Ochsner and Willis-Knighton in Shreveport. While most living donors donate to people they know, some are altruistic and donate to someone they match, she said. Donors do a blood test and genetic testing to see how close a match they are, so there is less rejection, Heintz said. 

Commission re-organizes

The disabilities commission, which helps persons with all disabilities, was initially established by the archdiocese many years ago to ensure that those with mobility issues could enter churches (via ramps). 

Katrina rendered the commission dormant, but Pesce and other former commission members re-established the annual Mass for Persons with Disabilities, and the archdiocese revamped the commision with a vision statement and goals that include having a disabilities advocate in all Catholic parishes. Currently, there are about 15 to 20 parishes with advocates.

Pesce and commission co-chair Shirley Bertucci also speak at priest deanery meetings to recognize the needs of disabled parishioners so “people with disabilities can participate in Mass and are treated well” at a parish. 

The commission meets approximately five to six times a year. Orientation for new parish advocates is available at most meetings.

The next Mass for people with disabilities is July 15 10:30 a.m. at St. Mary’s Assumption, 923 Josephine St., New Orleans. The commission also will hold a Saturday workshop Nov. 10, 9 a.m.-noon, at Transfiguration of the Lord Parish, 5621 Elysian Fields Ave., for ministers interested in becoming parish advocates for the disabied.

Interested organ donors can call Elizabeth Wands, Tulane’s living donor transplant coordinator, at 988-5263 or (888) 988-4344 or the nonprofit MatchingDonors.com, the nation’s largest living organ donor organization at 861-6295. Persons can register to be a donor (after death) in Louisiana by saying “yes” when obtaining a driver’s license, state ID or sign up at the Louisiana Donor Registry at www.donatelifela.org.

  Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarionherald.org.

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