PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Anna Fischman and Katie Strickland are especially thankful this year.
The two reunited at the Gift of Life Donor Program’s early Thanksgiving dinner last week in Philadelphia, where they met in person for the first time in 20 years. They expressed gratitude for their own children and families — who may not have even been possible were it not for the lifesaving procedure they both received as infants.
Fischman and Strickland, both now 36, had liver transplants at the same hospital in Pittsburgh when they were about 1 year old.
“We were waiting on the [donor] list together and our parents — our moms, especially — befriended one another,” said Strickland, of North Carolina. “We both kept in touch ever since and we vacationed together when we were young, and kind of lost touch. But [Fischman] found me a couple years ago and we were talking ever since.
“I’m just grateful to have a friend like her; gone through the same stuff I’ve been through, and she’s helped me so much.”
Fischman, of Fairmount, is equally grateful.
“We both got a second chance at life and thankful that we’re reconnecting,” she said. “We just want to encourage people what a wonderful gift donating organs is and what’s possible. Not only did Katie and I get another chance at life, but we created three beautiful little lives.”
Strickland and her husband have an 11-month-old daughter. Fischman and her husband have a 6-year-old son and a soon-to-be 4-year-old daughter.
Although they received donor organs at such a young age, they had concerns about getting pregnant as transplant recipients. The Gift of Life’s Transplant Pregnancy Registry International (TPRI) helped them through it.
“I was reconnected with Gift of Life about seven years ago now, when I was looking to get pregnant, and there really wasn’t very much information out there on getting pregnant after having a transplant,” said Fischman. “Even though my transplant was so long ago, there was still a concern.
“They really answered all my questions, really calmed my fears, and I have two beautiful children.”
Fischman told Strickland about it when she was thinking about having a baby.
TPRI has researched nearly 5,000 participants since 1991, studying the long-term impact of post-transplant parenthood.
Lisa Coscia, TPRI senior research registry coordinator, said most transplant medications are compatible with pregnancy, and patients can and do become pregnant and do well as long as their transplants are stable.
“I think there are still some unknowns because we still have a high percentage of prematurity and low birth weight infants, and we are not exactly sure why that is,” she noted. “Is it related to their original disease? Is it related to maybe the medications? We don’t think so. But now, there are [TPRI] patients that have either been on dialysis or have end-stage organ disease, so we are really looking at what that does to pregnancy down the road.”
Coscia joined Fischman and Strickland for the reunion dinner. “It’s amazing to be able to meet these patients because most of the time I just talk with people over the phone,” she said.
Strickland, holding back tears, said her daughter gives her life a whole new meaning.
“I wake up every day and just grateful and humbled and never take anything for granted,” she said. “Always grateful for what I have and for my loved ones.”