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Transplant recipients meet, thank transplant unit personnel at UPMC Presbyterian

Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Multiple transplant recipient Georgene Thomas, 50 of Mount Washington gets a hug from UPMC medical ICU primary nurse care coordinator Michele Sebelia while visiting the hospital for the Donate Life Patient Parade to raise awareness for organ donation in recognition of donate life month.

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Thursday, April 11, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

It's been nearly 16 years since Georgene Thomas was saved by a double lung and heart transplant, and eight years since she received a kidney transplant to keep her going.

On Wednesday, the Mt. Washington woman joined other transplant recipients to meet and thank some of the transplant unit personnel at UPMC Presbyterian, Oakland. The event was part of a monthlong effort to increase organ donations.

Thomas smiled broadly as she hugged and chatted with nurses and doctors. But her eyes welled with tears as she recalled the people who supplied her organs.

“They are God's angels, and I've been blessed by them,” said Thomas, 50, as she toured an intensive care unit. “But I am sad for the loss their families experienced.”

Registered nurse Michele Sebelia, who works in the transplant unit, said it means a great deal when transplant patients return to visit.

“When they're in this unit they are at their very worst,” Sebelia said. “So it's very fulfilling to have them come back to visit so we can see how wonderful they are doing.”

Amy Weisgerber of the Center for Organ Recovery and Education said Wednesday's event helps “put a face on transplantation.”

“We want to show that it's possible for people to have a transplant and then go back and lead a normal life,” Weisgerber said. “It also gives a lot of meaning to donor families, who can see that their loved one who gave this gift are responsible for such wonderful outcomes.”

On April 21, Melissa Bell, 37, of Ross will celebrate the seventh anniversary of the heart transplant she received to correct a birth defect.

After recovering from surgery, Bell became an active volunteer at UPMC and works to promote organ donation.

“I like to pay it forward by meeting with people who are waiting for a transplant and maybe don't know a lot about what they will be facing,” Bell said. “My hope is for people to look at me and realize that I would not be here if it wasn't for an organ donor and maybe consider becoming one.”

Tony LaRussa is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7987 or

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