'We all share something': Transplant patients and their families gather for reunion

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More than 1,000 transplant patients and their families gathered in Dallas on Saturday for the 32nd annual transplant reunion hosted by Baylor Hospital's Transplant Institute.

The reunion gives families and patients a chance to meet other transplant families who've gone through similar experiences.

“I tell everybody I take a little piece of her everywhere I go,” transplant recipient Michael Gristina said.

Gristina shares a special bond with his wife, Rebecca.

When he found out he was in stage 4 kidney failure in 2016, she immediately volunteered to see if she was a match to be a kidney donor.

“About a year later, we did the transplant, found out I was a match, 100 percent match, and we did it,” Rebecca Gristina said. “And now I can always throw in the you have to do the dishes because I gave you my kidney.”

Jokes aside, they're celebrating a successful surgery almost a year later.

“Just the fact she's a part of me now, and with me always, it's a really good feeling,” Michael added.    

The Gristinas are among dozens of others who came to Dallas for a transplant reunion to celebrate the gift of life with other transplant patients and their families.

“They had just started putting me on hospice, and I got put on the transplant list in March and got the call in June,” lung transplant recipient Karen Brown said.

Brown, who got a lung transplant about three years ago, remembers the day she got the call she was getting a lung from a 23-year-old woman who died in a car accident.

“There was fear, there was guilt because my donor had to die for me to get it, and there was relief because I was going to live. There's all kinds of emotions going on,” Brown added.

Three years later, Brown says she's met her lung donor's mother, who is now family.

“They gave me the gift of…they gave me breath. I can breathe,” Brown said.

The reunion was emotional not only for patients, but also the doctors who helped save them.

“It actually warms my soul. It affects my soul to have them coming back like this, to have them express,” said Dr. Goran Klintmalm, chief/chairman of the Simmons Transplant Institute. “They don't even need to say anything, just the fact that they come here, and they give you a hug.

All of them gathered together to celebrate the bond they share.

“We all share something, we all have a common denominator there, a common thread,” Brown added. “It's life, it's a gift beyond any gift you could ever have.”

Baylor Hospital has been doing transplant surgeries since 1984, and their surgeons have done almost 11,000 organ transplants.

Click here for more information on transplants from Baylor University Medical Center.