Dr. Phil H. Berry

drberry_float_pictureThere is no way to know how many people’s lives have been saved because of one conversation that took place nearly 30 years ago. It happened in the late 1980s in a home in the south Texas town of Brazoria. A 30-year-old homemaker told her family that if anything should happen to her, she wanted her organs to be donated.

What is known is that when this woman died suddenly of an aneurysm on October 26, 1987, her family honored her wishes, and her liver went to a Dallas man who had only two weeks to live.

The man is Dr. Phil H. Berry, a Dallas orthopedic surgeon who contracted the hepatitis B virus during a surgery he performed in the early ’80s. The virus caused cirrhosis and, eventually, liver failure. Unable to work, he sought the care of a transplant surgeon in Dallas, who told Dr. Berry that he would need a new liver to survive.

“I’m an orthopedic surgeon. We’re used to having a problem and fixing it,” Dr. Berry says. “I told my transplant surgeon, ‘Let’s just fix it.’ He said, ‘It’s not that simple. First, we have to put you on the transplant list.’”

After four to six weeks on the list, Dr. Berry and his wife found out that a liver was available. And after a two-month recovery, he was back in the OR, performing surgeries on his own patients.

Because of his donor’s gift, Dr. Berry has walked two of his three daughters down the aisle, loves his wife well, plays with his eight grandchildren and has continued to perform surgery on patients for the past 27 years.

Where we begin to lose count of the number of people helped by Dr. Berry’s donor is in considering all those who have heard Dr. Berry tell his transplant story. He shares the story far and wide.

One of the largest audiences he’s shared it with is the membership of the Texas Medical Association. In 1997 Dr. Berry served as president of the association and selected organ donation as TMA’s area of focus for the year. “I went around to 30 or 40 county medical societies and talked to them about organ donation and what it means to families,” Dr. Berry explains. “All of our doctors signed donor cards that year.”

Also in 1997, Dr. Berry and another transplant recipient decided to start a golf tournament to raise money for recovering transplant patients. Now in its 27th year, the tournament includes nearly 240 players. The money they raise helps cover costs that insurance companies don’t pay for, including mortgage payments and household bills. So far, tournament organizers have paid out nearly $1 million to help transplant recipients.

Dr. Berry got to meet his donor’s family 10 years after the transplant. The two families stay in touch often. “They were so glad that some good came out of their tragedy,” Dr. Berry says. “That’s the essence of transplantation.”