Tissue donors restore life and hope

In September of 2007, Mark Watters was piloting a helicopter that crashed in Florida. Two people died in the accident that almost killed Mark as well.

The injuries to his left leg were so severe, doctors were almost forced to amputate. Happy to be alive and able to walk, Mark soon found himself with debilitating pain.

"Over a few minutes it would literally get to the point where it felt like there was a hot iron inside my knee just burning away and it would just continue to get worse and worse and worse," said Watters.

Mark faced knee replacement surgery, but he and his wife, Eyewitness News reporter Leanne Suter, learned he was a candidate for a bone and cartilage transplant.

Unlike organ transplants, donated bone and tissue aren't as difficult to match. But, there are still specific needs that must be met. Mark needed a donor who was young, and similar in height.

"It's a different type of thing, we're not trying to match it because we are afraid of rejection by the body, we're trying to match it because we need a good geometric fit," said Mark's surgeon, Dr. Justin Saliman.

"To sit on that waiting list, I don't know how to say this delicately, but it's a good news, bad news situation for obvious reasons. I'm so lucky that someone knew more about tissue donation than I did," said Watters.

That someone turned out to be a 19-year-old man, whose donated knee and cartilage has given Mark a chance to live a pain free live.

Bryan Stewart, of One Legacy says close to a million people across the U.S. benefit from some type of donated tissue every year.

"Just because it's not necessarily saving a life in the most dramatic circumstance, doesn't mean it isn't providing the most dramatic benefit to someone who would otherwise suffer a lifetime of pain, a lifetime of blindness. It's a tremendous gift," said Stewart.

"Think about the people with cancer and tumors about these regions these donors are saving their extremity. As opposed to having to amputate the extremity we can use a donor's tissue and salvage an extremity of a cancer patient," said Dr. Saliman.

Mark's prognosis is good. And while his story might not be as dramatic as a heart transplant, the gift seems to touch him in the same way.

"I have the possibility to do this because someone was a tissue donor. it really touches your heart deeply," said Watters.

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