SHREWSBURY (CBSMiami) – As the nation battles the opioid epidemic that is claiming lives in record numbers, there is a new glimmer of hope that those tragic deaths are providing second chances for complete strangers.
New research finds organ donations from overdose deaths are up significantly.
Hatem Tolba cherishes every single day with his family.
Three years ago, the healthy father celebrated his wedding anniversary and two days later was in a medically-induced coma.
“I do remember, to some degree, that this could be the end of my life,” Tolba said.
A severe E.coli infection left him in organ failure.
It took weeks for Massachusetts doctors to stabilize him, but he desperately needed a liver transplant.
“What they came to us with, is your situation is so difficult right now that we to want you to consider a high risk donor,” Tolba said.
That donor turned out to be a 21-year-old man who died of a heroin overdose in the throes of the nation’s opioid epidemic.
New research in the annals of internal medicine finds organ donations from overdose victims have increased 24-fold.
New England Donor Services president Alex Glazier calls it an unexpected silver lining.
“It’s a lifesaving legacy out of a pretty horrific public health scenario,” Glazier said.
The liver Hatem received was infected with hepatitis c – which was cured in just weeks thanks to medical advances.
Those treatments have paved the way for using more organs that wouldn’t have been considered.
“That’s really been a total game changer in terms of opening up the potential for donation in these cases,” Glazier said.
Hatem hopes someday to meet the family of the person who died and saved his life.
“My purpose is to take this young man’s legacy forward,” he said. “To be the best husband and father that I can possibly be.”
Thanks to a gift from a stranger that’s giving him a second chance.
The research also found that organs from overdose deaths are not inferior to organs from people who died in other ways.