Relatives of organ donors welcome recipients into family

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wwltv.com

Posted on July 17, 2013 at 11:17 AM

Meg Farris / Eyewitness News
Email: mfarris@wwltv.com | Twitter: @megfarriswwl

OCHSNER HOSPITAL, METAIRIE, La. -- The decision a Houma family made in a time of sadness changed the lives of families across several parishes in southeast Louisiana.

But no one ever dreamed the gift could go beyond the selfless act of organ donation.

They may not look like they are related, but they are all members of one family.

"It's been such a blessing, you know, all of them have been such a blessing to us," said Marion Haines Duplantis of Houma.

The Duplantis family journey begins when the oldest of their five children, Phyllis Duplantis Blanchard, had kidney failure from type 1 diabetes. Her three brothers were matches.

Brendan donated one of his. Twelve more years passed, and then in her mid-40s, she was in the fight of her life.

"Because I asked her when they had her hooked up (to medical equipment in the nursing home,) and I said, 'You want to go?' And she did that (nodded her head). I say, 'Let them pull the plug?' She said, (nodding again), 'I don't want to suffer any more,' " Cam Duplantis recalls of his conversation with his daughter in 2004.

"She was ready. She was ready," Marion solemnly remembers.

Several years later, tragedy again with one of their sons, Derel, a healthy roofer and father of three girls, also in his mid-40s.

"As he walked up the steps to get on the porch (of his home), he screamed out that he had a severe headache and he dropped right there. Never regained consciousness," Cam recalls.

It was an aneurysm. Blood vessels in his brain suddenly broke open.

"The neurosurgeon is the one who came and told us, 'He's brain dead. We're going to have to disconnect him, but we want to advise you that he is a donor.' I say, 'Well great, do what you got to do,'" said Cam.

Derel was a donor because he had signed the donor card when being tested to see if he was a match for his sister Phyllis years before.

Marion remembered something Derel said in the car while passing a church just a few weeks earlier.

"If anything ever happens to me, I would like to be buried at that church, with that pastor, with that choir. He loved it. He sat front row," said Marion proudly about her son, who was the only white member among the black congregation.

The Duplantis family reached out to the people, who come from all walks of life throughout southeast Louisiana who got Derel's organs. One man got his heart, another man got his kidney and a woman got his liver and other kidney.

They had no idea that they were not only gaining a chance at life, but a new family.

"I think the first call kind of hit me when I talked to Maw Maw (Marion), which is my donor's parent, mother. And I talked to the middle daughter and the thing that she said kind of hit me pretty hard. She was so glad that I got her dad heart," said Tyrone Cooper, 54 of Luling.

He had been in congestive heart failure for years, most likely caused by a virus.

The entire family, including Derel's three daughters, embraced Tyrone as their own, down to their family nicknames.

"The real comfort that I got was the first call, when I got it from Maw Maw. And I was sitting in JC Penny reading, and the wife was shopping, and looked like I had been talking to her for years," said Cooper.

"And it was the comfort and insurance that she gave that Derel, who was my donor, really wanted to give his organs. I texted all three of them last night," he said chocking back tears. "And I told them I kind of appreciate them accepting me for who I was."

"I didn't know what to expect, and when I met the people, they made me feel right at home," said kidney recipient David Marcotte, 55, of Myrtle Grove. "It was great. It was just like being home with my parents when they were alive."

The dozens of children and grandchildren and great grandchildren of all the families -- including recipient Debra Valure, who was sick and had to miss this family gathering -- celebrate holidays, births, and birthday's together. They even have symbolic ceremonies, like planting one tree that bears three types of fruit.

"Derel's grandchildren, that he didn't get to see, will call Tyrone 'Parone.' Isn't that cute," said Marion about the grandchildren who were not born yet when Derel passed away.

"Once you pass away, your spirit's gone. Why not donate the organs so somebody else can live a normal life," said Cam.

And as the years have moved on, and the love grows, they have discovered they are kindred spirits.

"I was able to get back into hunting and fishing doing what I like to do," said David. "Their son Derel was very much like me, so they tell me, because he enjoyed hunting, fishing. He was gone all the time."

"When we got over there (to meet Derel's family), my cell phone went off and it was (the theme song to the sitcom Sanford and Son) Fred Sanford ring tone. It was the same ring tone that Derel had, you know, which was amazing," said Tyrone. Does loving these new family members help the Duplantis family cope with their loss?

'Of course,' they say, that and knowing their lost children and new children are no longer suffering, and their faith.

"God, that's all I can say. God, because you know you'll see them later," said Marion.

Ochsner transplant hepatologist Dr. George Therapondos says that nearly 10 patients needing organs are added to the waiting list each day in the country, while 18 patients die waiting everyday.

The Duplantis family encourages people to become donors, and for donors and recipients to reach out to each other.

You can find out more about signing a donor card on the Ochsner site here.

Or with LOPA, The Louisiana Organ procurement Agency, click here.

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