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Tissue donation helps breast cancer patients get their lives back

Posted at 11:47 AM, Nov 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-09 12:47:27-05

OMAHA, Neb (KMTV) — When you hear about organ donations, you probably think of a kidney, a liver or a heart. But each year nearly forty-thousand people provide lifesaving and healing tissue. Some of those donors are helping those fighting breast cancer. Serese Cole talks to one metro woman who is taking charge of her life — thanks to the unique donation.

When Jen Culton's sister, Mickey was diagnosed with breast cancer — it affected their entire family.

"She did genetic testing and found out she had the BRCA-1 Gene. So we all went and got tested," explained Culton.

Turned out, Jen had the genetic gene, too.

"Very scared," Culton shared. "Then being told by multiple doctors that it's not a matter of if you're going to get cancer, but when. And so my chances were 87 percent."

To reduce those chances, doctors recommended a double mastectomy. Four years later, Jen got one.

"I knew it was time to do it," Culton said.

Jen knew the surgery could save her life. But she also wanted to look and feel alive.

"As a woman when you have a double mastectomy, especially when it's preventative, you feel things are taken away. You just don't feel the same about yourself. So I thought reconstruction would help," Culton shared.

That next part of her journey was possible thanks to a surprising source - a skin donor.

"It's made a big difference in our ability to get a superior aesthetic result with breast reconstruction," said Dr. Perry Johnson.

Dr. Johnson, the Chief of Plastic Surgery with University of Nebraska Medical Center says it's common.

"I would guess that almost all patients undergoing breast reconstruction with implants use surgeons who use that skin," Dr. Perry said.

"It's called Acellular Dermal Matrix. Skin is donated and harvested ... and then can be used to support the breast implant, provide coverage of the implant and help actually allow expansion of the skin envelope when we're doing implant based reconstruction," Dr. Johnson explained.

"It's one thing to say well I reconstructed a patient and put in implants but they still don't look good, they don't look symmetric, they don't have a nice shape. I think the overall aesthetic value of that skin to achieve the desired result has been a big game changer for a lot of patients," he added.

"Skin donation goes a long way. One skin donor's tissue — can help more than five women have reconstruction surgery," Serese Cole illustrated.

"I'm so happy I did it," Culton said.

Happy and healthy — thanks to genetic testing and one generous donation.

Jen Culton credits her sister with saving her life — by insisting she get genetic testing.

You can save a life or potentially help breast cancer patients - by signing up to be an organ and tissue donor. To donate - you can sign up online or in person at your local DMV.