Lincolnton family example of why Norwood fought for organ donation bill

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March 13, 2007

LINCOLNTON, Ga.---Shortly before his death, US Rep. Charlie Norwood was working on what would be his last bill to go through Congress.

That bill has now been renamed as the Charlie W. Norwood Living Organ Donation Act. The hope is that the bill will lead to many more life-saving kidney transplants each year.

Tonya Burt, a Lincolnton sixth grade teacher, is a stickler in the classroom, but a teddy bear when it comes to her father Benny.

She'd do anything for him, even if it meant risking her own life to donate a kidney.

A simple solution in theory proved difficult in reality. Tonya wasn't a match for her dad.

She and her father joined a kidney exchange program. It meant a chance for her father to get a new kidney now instead of having to wait.

The catch was that Tonya had to agree to donate a kidney to a stranger.

But because of the National Transplant Act created more than 20 years ago, finding a hospital to perform the surgery wasn't easy. The law, intended to keep people from being paid to donate an organ, unintentionally kept many hospitals from performing the surgery.

Benny had to go to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore for his transplant.

Cases like this are why Congressman Norwood made it his fight to make the process faster.

"Could mean more Georgians get transplanted, which is a better alternative than dialysis," said Dr. James Wynn of MCG.

Despite the hardships and a successful surgery, Tonya's father died three months later.

"If I was asked to do it over again, I'd do it," she said. "Because my daddy wanted to live."

Congressman Norwood's bill has already passed the House. It is expected to pass the Senate with the same ease.

The measure is expected to save taxpayers nearly $500 million over the next 10 years in reduced Medicare costs for dialysis.

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