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Michael Kutcher tours UIHC for first time since his heart transplant 20 years ago

BY JENNY EARL | APRIL 10, 2012 6:30 AM

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The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics was not the same hospital Michael Kutcher remembered 20 years ago. It wasn't the high-tech equipment or the new facilities he was drawn to this year but the new and familiar faces that greeted him.

"The people here are family, and they're always going to be family," Kutcher said. " I mean, what do you say to people that save your life?"

Kutcher, 34, frateneral twin brother to actor Ashton Kutcher, toured UIHC Monday as a recent partner with the Iowa Donor Network. At the age of 13, Kutcher needed a heart transplant to survive.

"I realized that my story is so powerful when speaking about organ donation and about the obstacle of overcoming my illness that I felt the need to reach out to the Iowa Donor Network and get involved," Michael Kutcher told The Daily Iowan after the tour.

He first became ill in November 1991, but he and his family thought it was only the flu.

The flu-like symptoms turned out to be side effects of an enlarged heart, which put him into the intensive-care unit, waiting for a cardiologist to tell him he needed a heart transplant. Two weeks later, Kutcher underwent cardiac arrest, putting him on a ventricle device that could only keep him alive for 48 hours. One day later, he received a new heart.

Thomas Scholz, a UI professor of pediatric cardiology who worked in his last year of residency with Kutcher, said transplants are rarely received that quickly.

"It's not common; kids wait for weeks, months at a time," Scholz said. "The more we can make people aware of success stories, the more likely people will be participate."

Scholz said severe cases such as Kutcher's demonstrate the need for willing donors.

"We have children pass away while waiting on the transplant list," he said.

More than 113,000 people are waiting for an organ transplant in the United States, including 600 in Iowa.

According to the Iowa Donor Network, only 56 percent of Iowans are registered donors — 1.7 million out of a population of 3 million.

Tony Hakes, the communication-development specialist for the Iowa Donor Network, said a public figure such as Kutcher is just what Iowa needs to increase awareness and the number of people registered as organ and tissue donors. He noted that the network is planning to further work with Kutcher through filming, book mailings, and public-service announcements.

"He's got connections outside of Iowa, and we're looking at doing some things like that with his family," he said.

UI Assistant Professor Julia Klesney-Tait said when a donor becomes available, the UIHC and Iowa Donor Network determine where organs have the best match, either in the state or across the country.

"Oftentimes, people get to see one side or another," she said. "An event like this closes the loop, and you can see terrific things that happen with transplants."

After Kutcher's tour of the UIHC and a ceremony honoring donors, he met with children who have also received heart transplants and with pediatric patients still waiting.

"As I speak to individuals I often say 'no one's going to do it for you,'" Kutcher said. "I had to have the will and the drive to survive and to overcome that obstacle, and I fought, I fought the hardest fight I'd ever fought — and I consider it a win."


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