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Five People Alive Today Thanks To SDSU Student

SDSU freshman Sara Stelzer was taken off life-support Saturday after losing a brief battle with meningococcal meningitis, and five other people were given new life because she was a registered organ donor.

SDSU freshman Sara Stelzer was taken off life-support Saturday after losing a brief battle with meningococcal meningitis, and five other people were given new life because she was a registered organ donor.

Organ transplants help save many lives, but finding organs is a challenge. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, new patients in need of an organ get added to the list every 10 minutes.

Dr. Barry Browne is a transplant surgeon at Sharp Memorial Hospital. Although he wasn't involved with the Stelzer case, he explained on Monday why there was confusion about when Stelzer, 18, died.

"Some people are on life-support, but they're actually dead and those are the people who go on to become organ donors," Browne said. "There are some people who are on life-support and their brain is still working a little bit. Those people are not dead."

Related: SDSU Student’s Death From Meningitis Prompts Classmates To Seek Medical Help

There were news reports late Thursday night that Stelzer had died, but SDSU officials said she died early Friday. Later that day, university officials said she was still on life support so her organs could be donated. On Monday, SDSU and county health officials said she died on Saturday.

Hospitals benefit greatly from people who donate their organs because it lets them help other patients in need, like people who are on dialysis and need kidneys, Browne said. Sharp also uses tissue donations to help injured veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.

Browne said there is still no foolproof way to determine if an organ is healthy enough to transplant, but it's what medical professionals have to do to keep people alive.

"Until we can grow our own kidneys and hearts, that's just one of the inherent risks of transplant."

Robert Billings lost his wife, Jackie, to bacterial meningitis earlier this year. He donated her organs and believes the benefits outweigh the risks.

"And so she was able to affect three peoples' lives with four different organs," Billings said about donating his wife's organs.

Stelzer's mom says out of tragedy came something new.

A single organ donor can save the lives of up to eight people, while a tissue donor can improve the lives of up to 50.

In San Diego County, 2,138 people are waiting for an organ transplant.

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