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Organ Donor Recipients Share Personal Experiences, Meet Donor Families

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Katy Penney, Katrina Penney and "Mr Fluffy" . Katrina received a heart transplant when she was 9 weeks old.
Kavitha Cardoza
Katy Penney, Katrina Penney and "Mr Fluffy" . Katrina received a heart transplant when she was 9 weeks old.

By Kavitha Cardoza

In the last two decades more than 5,000 people in the D.C. area have received organ transplants.

As part of organ donation month, local transplant patients are sharing personal experiences, and there's one delicate piece of the process: correspondence between donor families and recipients.

When Katrina Penney was nine weeks old she had a heart transplant. Cards to the donor's family went unanswered for six years. But every year Katrina would release three balloons: one red, one pink and one blue to commemorate what she calls her "heart day;" until recently, when she got a response.

"We found out it was a girl, Briana, so finally this year we sent up just two balloons--a red one for love and a pink one," says Penney.

John Ogden with the Washington Regional Transplant Community says just a small percentage of donors and recipients want to make contact.

"For the donor families, they've gone through such a tremendous loss," he says. "It's sometimes difficult for them to rehash the loss. And on the other hand for the recipients, who are alive today because someone has passed away. And for them it's a matter of survivor's guilt."

Katrina's mother Katy says she doesn't mind at all that the donor's family was silent for so long. She says she only thinks of them with one emotion: "unbelievable gratefulness."

"We're strangers to them," she says. "They had no obligation to us. And during such a sad time they had the opportunity to think of someone else."

In D.C., 34 percent of the adults are registered donors; in Maryland it's 46 percent and in Virginia it's 56 percent. More than 100,000 people in the U.S. are waiting for organ donations.

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