Fred Brown has had a distinguished career in healthcare. In the 1990s he was chief executive of BJC Healthcare in St. Louis and in 1999 he was chairman of the American Hospital Association. We ran into each other occasionally at conferences, sometimes having meals together. He is always fun to be with because he has a great sense of humor to go along with his keen insights into some of the more complicated facets of the healthcare industry. It's obvious that he loves the industry and the people in it. But then one day in the late 1990s, to the surprise of friends and colleagues, he decided to retire at age 59.
Sadly, there aren't enough Fred Browns in this world-individuals with his kind of skills and leadership qualities. When someone like him leaves an organization, there is a vacuum of wisdom and experience that is extremely difficult to fill.
Thus it was with delight that I read in this magazine last year that Fred was returning to healthcare, as president and CEO of Northern Arizona Healthcare in Flagstaff. Though I was happy at his return, I admit I was one of those who wondered just why he had come back. I haven't asked Fred about his motivation, but my guess is he simply wanted to get back to something he loved doing, which is leading a healthcare organization.
Then, after less than a year in Flagstaff, Brown resigned again, and again the questions came. But as we reported in our May 24 "News Makers" column (p. 30), this time there was an explanation for the decision. It had to do with his stepdaughter, Katie Margolis, who desperately needs a kidney transplant. While Fred was working in Flagstaff, Katie and her mother, Shirley, were residing in Scottsdale, Ariz., near the Mayo Clinic Hospital where Katie, 22, has been receiving treatment and awaiting a transplant.
Actually, Scottsdale was where Fred Brown had retired to in 1998 along with Katie and Shirley. When the Flagstaff job opened up, it seemed like an ideal situation. The family assumed Katie would soon have a donor organ. But things have not turned out that way, and, consequently Fred felt that he had to put first things first. "It was too much of a separation. ... I wasn't there during this time of crisis and I felt bad about it," he told our reporter, Cinda Becker.
Although he has retired again, he is currently vice chairman of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations and will soon become chairman. But his main focus and priority is Katie, who is one of about 82,000 people in this country in need of an organ transplant.
Katie's health woes began when she was only 2. She developed a disease called focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, which left her with two nonfunctioning kidneys. Then at the age of 5 she was put on dialysis. At age 6 she received her first transplant, from her father. That kidney lasted only about 1 1/2 months and she had to be put back on dialysis until she was 8. At that juncture her mother gave her one of her kidneys. Things did not go well and all sorts of complications set in. Katie had to be hospitalized for months at a time, all the while enduring the horrible side effects of the many drugs she had to take in order to survive.
Katie describes what it was like in school in a letter she wrote to Oprah Winfrey hoping to have her do a show on the topic of organ transplants: "Kids called me names due to my small height and the puffiness in my face caused by the drug prednisone. I had extra hair growth all over my body, and the kids referred to me as `the monkey.' "
You get the idea. Her life must have been lonely and difficult, almost unbearable. Later when her stepfather retired and the family moved to Scottsdale, there was some semblance of normalcy. There, no one knew about her illness and her appearance had improved dramatically. For the first time she was able to enjoy a reasonably normal social life, even finding a boyfriend, but in January 2003 her luck ran out and the kidney she had received from her mother stopped functioning properly.
Because of what was happening to her, Katie was so despondent that she actually ran away from home and stayed with a good friend. But while there she became quite ill and had to be rushed to a local hospital and later would wake up with a dialysis catheter in her chest. She has had plenty of catheters. Her life is anything but normal. Her skin problems have reappeared, and her friends have vanished.
"I hate living off a machine, being tired all the time, not being able to eat or drink what I want; but worst of all having a catheter in my chest," she wrote in her letter.
She wants others to benefit from greater awareness of a need for more organ donation. "Not enough people understand how important organ donation is and what it can do to save a person's life," she wrote. She wants people who can to sign the form that indicates on their driver's licenses that they would be an organ donor, to get tested as a possible donor (you only need one kidney in order to survive) and to tell their families about their wishes regarding organ donation in the event that they die.
I've seen a film Katie made with her mother and she is a beautiful young woman who hopes in the very near future to have the necessary transplant she needs so desperately for a better life.
So the next time you have your driver's license renewed, check the box that makes you an organ donor. It's a great way to give back to others who have made our lives so rich. To Katie, Shirley and Fred, we send our love and prayers.
Take the time to sign,
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