Central Texas man brings attention to the need for organ donors


by JIM BERGAMO / KVUE News and photojournalist David Gardner

Bio | Email | Follow: @JimB_KVUE


Posted on January 4, 2013 at 7:25 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 4 at 7:41 PM

AUSTIN -- The number of patients in need of organ transplants continues to grow. 11,000 Texans are currently on the transplant list. 410 of those are in need of a heart. Unfortunately, doctors say about one-third of those will not get a transplant in time.  

One Central Texas man hopes to put a face on the need for people to register to become organ donors.

Gene Brooks is 61 years old.

"I have been visually impaired all my life," said Brooks.

However, that hereditary eye disorder hasn't kept him from getting his doctorate in vocational rehabilitation counseling and teaching at the University of Texas.

His blindness is also not the reason Brooks is fighting for his life and on the heart transplant list. That's a result of his heart disease known as nonischemic cardiomyopathy.

"Which means the heart muscle became diseased and failed to squeeze strongly," said Mary Beth Cishek, a cardiologist with Seton Heart Institute. "That means his heart couldn't supply the necessary blood to his brain, his liver and the rest of his body."  

Cishek recommended Brooks be fitted with a VAD or Ventricular Assist Device. It's an artificial pump that removes blood from the heart and pumps it back to the rest of the body.

Brooks had several questions. 

"I asked her if I choose not to go with the VAD how long would she give me to live? She said, 'Less than a year.' I said 'put it in.'"

Brooks had his VAD implanted a year ago.

"I am a very, very fortunate man," he said. "My quality of life with the VAD has changed."  

Brooks knows the VAD is only a temporary solution and that ultimately he will require a heart transplant. 

Brooks' wife, Anasa -- who's been a registered organ donor since she was 16-- hopes her husband's story will encourage others to sign up to become organ donors.

"It's a give-and-take kind of thing and a very difficult decision for a lot of people to make," she said. "Nonetheless. Why allow a portion of your body that's going to allow someone else to live and to prosper die with you? To me it makes no sense. If it's going to allow him to live and continue to teach and be an example to other people then we're looking forward to that day and time."  

Gene Brooks is a registered organ donor as well. His doctors say besides his heart and eyes, his other organs are perfectly healthy.

Here's a link to the Texas Donor registry: https://www.donatelifetexas.org/