Pathology’s Impact Both Professional and Personal for Transplant Recipient
Alaina Grasta talks little about her transplant journey, even with colleagues in Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. But in recognition of Donate Life Month in April, she is sharing her story to increase awareness about transplantation and organ donation, and to raise funds to help other transplant patients through the annual Rochester River Run/Walk 5K.
Alaina began having health issues at just 16. Diagnosed with a rare kidney disease, she began dialysis in high school. Eventually her care team at SMH, led by pediatric nephrologist Ayesa Mian, M.D., deemed a transplant necessary. In 2010, a living donor – a third cousin – offered Alaina a kidney and a second chance.
That gift of life lasted eight years before rejection required it be removed. A year later, she was lucky enough to receive another living donor kidney, this time from someone on her fiancé’s side of the family. (Her fiancé, Shawn, also is a living donor kidney recipient.)
“There are no words to express the gratitude I feel about my donors,” Alaina said. “It’s incredibly selfless.”
In addition to providing her better health and an improved quality of life, Alaina’s medical journey led early on to a career in pathology. Interested in playing a key role in patient care, as so many had done for her, she began a career in the laboratory at Rochester General Hospital after her first transplant. Eight years in the field and two transplants later, she transitioned to URMC in 2019 and has quickly progressed through the department in multiple lab roles, recently accepting a position with Yan Victoria Zhang, Ph.D., M.B.A., director of Clinical Chemistry and vice chair for Clinical Enterprise Strategy.
A career in pathology at URMC has provided Alaina a unique opportunity to impact lives, participating in the great care taken to provide crucial information to support life-altering diagnoses and treatments. Her choice of profession is even more special given that Pathology colleagues were vital in her own transplant story, from every blood draw and slide review, to the confirmations necessary to ensure her donor organs were healthy and a good match for transplant.
Meeting the Tissue Typing and Donor Testing Lab teams, managed by Angela Busacco and Lindsay Ryan-Muntz respectively, meant a great deal to Alaina in her first few weeks at URMC. She knows they have a heavy lift as they conduct testing for heart, liver and renal (pancreas and kidney) patients. In 2022, renal transplant alone reached 105 transplants, consisting of deceased and living donors, as well as paired transplant exchanges involving SMH and other institutions across the country. Additionally, Pathology regularly works with renal patients who are actively waiting for transplants through SMH – currently 426 people each require monthly blood work.
“The work the entire Pathology department performs every day is about precision and integrity, for every test, every patient, every time,” Alaina said. “This is patient care of the highest order. Meliora – ever better. These are not just slogans. It’s truly what our Pathology team does.”
Want to get involved?
The Medical Center's Workplace Partnership for Life committee, with UR Medicine Transplant and Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network, has scheduled events and celebrations throughout the month of April. They include:
- The Rochester River Run/Walk 5K, a collaboration of Friends of Strong Memorial Hospital, UR Medicine Transplant and Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network, is happening this Sunday, April 2. Join the community in helping SMH transplant patients from across Upstate New York.
- Blue and Green Day on April 14. Break out some blue and green attire and spread the word about the importance of registering to be an organ donor. Send photos of you and your colleagues to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The annual Donate Life Month flag-raising ceremony begins at 11:30 a.m. April 14 in the Class of ‘62 Auditorium. Join teams from SMH and FLDRN as they welcome transplant recipients and organ donor families.
- An information table will be hosted by volunteers, many of them organ recipients, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Tuesday in the SMH main lobby.
- Finger Lakes Coffee Roasters' drink-of-the-month (yes, blue and green!) will be an iced matcha latte with blueberry cold foam
- Pass Life On! Please consider joining thousands of our neighbors by adding your name to the organ donor registry. You have the power to save up to eight lives! Visit PassLifeOn.org to learn more and add your name to the organ donor registry.