How a 22-year-old’s overdose death saved lives

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(CNN)   Kyle Sullivan was an exceptional athlete, a star baseball player in high school. He had a contagious smile, dark hair and glimmering blue eyes. He stole the hearts of everyone around him — all while developing a deadly drug addiction.

Last year, Kyle died from a drug overdose. He was 22.

As she reflects on his life, Lisa Sullivan, 56, said she didn’t know how long Kyle was experimenting with drugs. But after he graduated from high school in Maine, she saw her healthy son spiral into a depressed and sickly young man. She felt helpless.

“In my son’s instance, I really feel that he thought he was going through a phase. I don’t think he looked at himself as a drug addict. I don’t think he felt he was addicted to drugs,” Sullivan said.

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When an organ donor dies of a drug overdose, the nation’s Public Health Service and CDC categorize them as an “increased risk” donor, Glazier said.

In other words, organs from the potential donor might be at an increased risk for certain infectious diseases — and to determine such, the donor’s family is typically interviewed about the donor’s medical and social history and behaviors.

“But I think our understanding collectively in the field of organ donation and transplantation of how to view that risk has changed,” Glazier said. The incidence of disease transmission in organ transplantation is estimated to be as low as 1%, according to a 2012 study in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.
“The risk of dying to wait for an organ is the biggest risk that many of these patients face and so in evaluating the potential increased risk that comes with an organ from a donor who died of an overdose, it needs to be in that context,” she said. “In that context, the bigger risk is the risk of not getting a transplant, versus the potential for a disease transmission.”

‘His heart’s beating in someone else’

Some of the people who received Kyle’s organs were facing the risk of not receiving an organ at all — and now they feel as if they have a new life, Sullivan said.

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The recipient of Kyle’s left kidney hopes to connect with Sullivan and her family, she said. Sullivan added that she also wants to meet the 66-year-old grandfather who was the recipient of Kyle’s heart.
“His heart’s beating in someone else,” Sullivan said of her son before falling into a deep sob.
“I’m sorry,” she said with a sniffle. “Organ donation … it just gives you a reason to keep going, to know that something good came out of something so tragic. … What I’m looking forward to right now is one day hearing Kyle’s heart beat again.”
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