JOHNSTOWN - It was about 20 years ago when Bradley Yerdon received what he described as a "second lease" on life.
Yerdon, then 22, received a new liver from an organ donor during a 14-hour operation at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
The donation not only saved him from a potentially fatal disease, it also left him with a story that reminds people donating an organ can save a life.
Brad Yerdon looks at paperwork at the
Coldwell Banker office on North?Comrie Avenue in Johnstown on Wednesday.
The Leader-Herald/Rodney Minor
From left, Yerdon, Dennis Sniezyk, Yerdon’s boss at the time, David Galpin, a cousin, and Donna Yerdon, Brad’s mother, are shown at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center on March 10, 1991.
"The number one priority for people [thinking about donating] should be to discuss organ donation with their family," Yerdon said.
Yerdon, a lifelong city resident, was born with the rare blood disorder, hemophilia.
Hemophilia is an inherited bleeding disorder in which the blood does not clot properly, according to the website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - www.cdc.gov. About 400 babies are born with hemophilia each year.
Blood contains many proteins, called clotting factors, which help stop bleeding, the website said. The best way to treat hemophilia is to replace those missing clotting factors so the blood can clot properly, the website said. That is done by injecting commercially prepared clotting factor concentrates - which at the time was made only from plasma, the liquid part of human blood - into a person's veins.
So, as part of the treatment for hemophilia, Yerdon had to receive those concentrates. He also had to be careful to avoid getting injured.
"Mostly I just had to take precautions. Just try to be safe," he said.
Donna Yerdon, Brad's mother, said she always had to be around to take him to the hospital if necessary.
If Brad had to go to the hospital, she said, she had to make arrangements for where Brad's older sister would stay until they got back.
"It was very difficult to deal with sometimes," she said. "I had to worry about both of them"
Yerdon said the government and companies did not screen the blood that was being used the way they do now.
The Food and Drug Administration and the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research are responsible for regulatory oversight of the United States blood supply, the FDA website - www.fda.gov - said
According to the website, each unit of donated blood is tested for a number of conditions, including hepatitis B and C, and HIV.
However, it was only in the mid-1980s that accurate tests for HIV and some hepatitis viruses were available or required.
As a result of the blood not being tested, Yerdon contracted hepatitis.
The word hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. It also refers to a group of viral infections that affect the liver, the FDA website said.
"Viral hepatitis is the leading cause of liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplantation," the website said. "An estimated 4.4 million Americans are living with chronic hepatitis."
The hepatitis ultimately began destroying Yerdon's liver.
Yerdon pointed out he was not the only hemophiliac who acquired another disease through a tainted blood transfusion. Blood donations only started being screened for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, in 1985.
Some hemophiliacs contracted AIDS and died because of tainted blood transfusions, he said. It happened to two of his cousins, he said.
"I slipped through the cracks," he said, describing his luck in avoiding that disease.
Of course, hepatitis also can be fatal. While Yerdon said the main complication of the disease for him was that he tired easily, in time the disease could have destroyed his liver.
Donna said when?Brad was in junior high school, doctors said he had cirrhosis of the liver, and it was possible he would need a liver transplant.
Eventually, a couple of years before he actually got his transplant, doctors told Yerdon he would need a new liver.
While a student at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, Yerdon said he carried a beeper so the doctors could contact him immediately and tell him to get to Pittsburgh right away.
Yerdon said he was home on winter break when he got the call he was waiting for. He said a local businessman donated his private plane to fly him to Pittsburgh as quickly as possible.
The first liver transplant Yerdon received, which was performed on Jan, 5, 1991, did not work. It was actually a subsequent surgery that started March 13, 1991, that was successful.
It was not random chance that Yerdon ended up in Pittsburgh. Yerdon's doctor recommended he go there because it was where Dr. Thomas E.?Starzl worked.
According to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center website - www.upmc.com - Starzl performed the world's first successful liver transplant in 1967. He is referred to as the "Father of Transplantation," the website said.
Yerdon said while Starzl did not perform the surgery, he was involved in making sure the second try was a success.
The entire time Brad was in Pittsburgh, his mother stayed there as well. Donna credited the people of Fulton?County, and the numerous benefits held to help the family, for helping her do that.
"It was just phenomenal," she said, about the support the family received from the community. "It was wonderful."
Yerdon, a Realtor with?Coldwell Banker, said 20 years later, he is in great health.
Doctors have informed him there are no more signs of hepatitis in his body and he can expect to live a normal life, Yerdon said.
A benefit of the transplant also was that it cured his hemophilia, he said.
Donna, who spends time working with her son at the Coldwell Banker office on North?Comrie Avenue, said what happened was a miracle.
"[Brad's] a picture of health," she said.
While he does not get as much exercise as he would like, Yerdon is careful about what he eats and does not drink or smoke.
"I got a second lease on life, so I try and stay away from the bad stuff," he said.
Yerdon said he hopes when people hear his story they think about the importance of organ donation.
Organ donation can be a touchy subject, he said, and there are a lot of myths about it.
However, its importance cannot be overstated.
Donna said organ donation not only enhances lives, it can give people another shot at life.
"I hope people realize that giving an organ donation does give people another chance at life," she said.
More than 110,000 people are waiting for an organ donation, according to www.organdonor.gov, the website for the Division of Transplantation, part of the federal government's Department of health and Human Services. Of those, 18 people die each day waiting for an organ, the website said.
For more information about becoming an organ donor, visit www.organdonor.gov