Organ donation and transplantation affects everyone. While we know that celebrity status has zero effect on a person’s status on the transplant wait list, there have been a number of celebrities that have had their lives touched by donation and transplantation. Here are some of their incredible stories.
Celebrity Organ Donors
Tony Award winning actress Natasha Richardson, known for her roles in films such as “The Parent Trap” and “Maid in Manhattan,” died in a tragic skiing accident in 2009. From this tragedy, however, rose the gift of life in the form of donated organs. Richardson gave life to three people after her death through the donation of her heart, liver, and kidneys. A family friend described organ donation as “very Natasha.” While her family was very shaken by her sudden death, they were happy she could help others through donation. Her husband, Liam Neeson, said, “We donated three of her organs, so she’s keeping three people alive at the moment… It’s terrific and I think she would be very thrilled and pleased by that.”
Named the “Player of the Century” by the National Association of Basketball Coaches in 2000, Oscar Robertson had more to offer than just skill on the court. In the NBA, Robertson played for both the Cincinnati Royals and the Milwaukee Bucks, was a multi-year All Star, and served as the third president of the NBA Players Association. He was also inducted into both the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.
In 1997, his daughter, who had lupus, was in need of a kidney. She would not live much longer without a transplant. Robertson, being a match, stepped up and became a living donor to her. Since then, he has become an honorary spokesman for the National Kidney Foundation.
The president of the Baltimore Ravens, Dick Cass, has led a prolific business and law career. He is also a living organ donor. In 2006, an old law school friend was in need of a kidney. Cass remembers receiving the call about his friend’s kidneys failing and saying, “Are you asking me if I will give him a kidney?” After discovering that he was a match, he decided to proceed with the donation. He went on to receive the Donate Life Champion Award in 2014, an award given to members of the athletic community who have inspired others to become organ donors.
Actor, director, and author LeVar Burton is known for his roles in “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and “Reading Rainbow.” What he is not as well known for, however, is his decision to become a living organ donor. Back in 2001, he donated a kidney to his ailing mother.
“It’s my mom,” he said. “I mean, there was no other choice to make. It’s my mom. And, you know, I think most people out there would do the same thing, faced with the same choice.”
Celebrity Transplant Recipients
Comedian and actor George Lopez, known for his work on the George Lopez show, lived his life from a young age with a genetic kidney condition. The condition worsened as he got older, most likely as a result of a relentless touring and production schedule. When his kidneys started failing, it soon became clear that he was going to need a transplant. Luckily, his then-wife Ann Lopez was a match and willing to become a living donor. “I wrote that I was doing this out of love and that I had faith in the operation,” Ann remembers. “To me, this was about us, about our daughter, Mayan. But George, he comes from a very dysfunctional family, a horrific childhood. It was hard for him to accept that someone would give him the gift of life.”
“Modern Family” actress Sarah Hyland battled a host of health issues growing up. One of the ailments was kidney dysplasia, which caused her kidneys to fail in 2012 and left her in need of a transplant. Hyland survived thanks to her father for stepping up and becoming a living donor. She recalls, “I was born with so many health issues that doctors told my mother I would never have a normal life. And she said, ‘You’re right, she won’t – but it won’t be because of her health.’”
“When my mother told me that story, it resonated with me: If I can’t have an ordinary life, I might as well have an extraordinary one,” she said. “If you set your mind to something, you’ll achieve it.”
Actor Mandy Patinkin, known for his role in The Princess Bride and for television shows such as Chicago Hope and Homeland, saw his career almost come to an end when a degenerative eye disease left him going blind in the mid 90’s. He received two corneal transplants, one in his right eye in 1997 and one in his left eye in 1998. “It’s an extraordinary gift when somebody gives their eye to someone so someone else can see,” commented Patinkin. “Let alone other organs to save a life. I could live if I was blind. People can’t live without hearts, without lungs, without livers.”
Stuntman Evel Knievel didn’t just defy death on his motorcycle. In 1999, he contracted Hepatitis C from a blood transfusion after getting injured during one of his stunts. He survived thanks to a life-saving liver transplant.
The twin brother of actor Ashton Kutcher, Michael, has faced many obstacles in his life. He was diagnosed with a mild case of cerebral palsy at a young age and at thirteen was told he had 3-4 weeks to live if he did not receive a heart transplant. He went into cardiac arrest after three weeks, and was put onto a pump that extended his life 48 hours. Twenty four hours later, he had received a new heart from a generous organ donor. Today, over 20 years later, he is alive and serves as an advocate for children with disabilities and organ donation.