Jim Gleason: Transplant Survivor
Turned Leading Advocate
By Alisha Hiebert
If you’ve been around the transplant community for any length of time, you’ve probably heard about TRIO. TRIO stands for Transplant Recipient International Organization, and its goal is simple: to support transplant patients. Founded in 1987 by Dr. Tom Starzyl and his patients, the organization operates in ‘chapters’ both on the domestic and international levels. The goal is to educate and advocate for patients, and as a whole, TRIO is widely recognized in the field of transplantation. I had the privilege of sitting down with the co-founder and president of TRIO’s Philadelphia chapter Jim Gleason.
In October of 1994, Jim received a heart transplant at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. His second chance at life, and the entry into his ‘bonus years’ as he calls them, inspired Jim to get involved in advocacy, and he worked with a local OPO (organ procurement organization) promoting the need for organ donors. It was here where Jim met his wife, Pam. Pam is a donor mom, having donated her son’s organs when he was killed in a bicycle accident in 1997.
I asked Jim why advocacy was so important to him, and he told me about his family. “At the time of tragedy,” Jim said, “in a distant family, they anonymously gave the gift of organ donation to save the life of this young father a distance away. How does one say thank you for that selfless gift? For me, it is in using that life extension to help many others who follow in my footsteps as they too face death, and possible organ transplant.”
Working with TRIO has served as an extension of Jim’s already existent advocacy, and a way to magnify his service. He says the collaborative work of TRIO allows them to reach far beyond what one individual could do alone. Most recently, a 7 year advocacy project was completed highlighting patient awareness on the risk of cancer post transplant, with 46 pages of action-based, fact-filled content.
Jim said it’s not a question of whether or not someone will donate their organs when they die. They are going to donate their organs, either to save someone’s life or to the ground. This way of framing the conversation makes the question much easier to consider and serves as a message for the community in deciding what to do with their organs when they no longer need them.
I asked Jim what advice he would give someone wanting to become involved in transplant advocacy and he said, “The life story of one’s organ transplant is so impactful in shaping the appeal of registering to be an organ donor when life is over. We must share that
amazing life adventure, as the most powerful message, to give hope for more
organs saving many more lives every day.” He urges people to simply get the message out there and to live a life that inspires others to donate.
If you are interested in finding out more about TRIO and what they do, or becoming involved in your local TRIO chapter, visit www.trioweb.org