Police turn out at blood drive in honor of injured officer

HealthCharityHuman InterestDavid SimonUniversity of Maryland Medical Center

Those who work in public safety consider themselves part of a brotherhood. But for the purposes of organ donation, a brother in blue may not be quite family enough, as Officer Gene Cassidy is finding out.

Cassidy was shot in the head 27 years ago in West Baltimore, and though he survived, he contracted Hepatitis C during a blood transfusion and now has end-stage cirrhosis. Cassidy's deteriorating condition was profiled by "The Wire" creator David Simon in a March 11 article in The Baltimore Sun, with the call put out that someone could help by donating half of their liver.

But the University of Maryland Medical Center said it is not seeking so-called "altruistic donors," and visitors to a blood drive Monday at the Fraternal Order of Police lodge were told that they weren't being screened as potential donors. Family members or "close friends with whom Mr. Cassidy has a personal relationship" would be the "most appropriate donors," read a fact sheet handed out at the event.

That frustrated Cassidy's wife, Patti, and union president Robert F. Cherry, who pulled the blood drive together.

"They don't understand that police are family," Patti Cassidy said.

Doctors say the reason for seeking those with close relationships to the patient is that the surgery is invasive, complex and potentially deadly. Dr. Benjamin Philosophe, who directs the University of Maryland's transplant program and who is supervising Cassidy's care, said doctors aren't turning people away but want to carefully screen potential donors before embarking on weeks of tests. Among the tests that are run are psychiatric evaluations.

"People are touched by this story, but I don't think they fully comprehend what they're getting themselves into," said Philosophe. "We want people to really want to do this. People close to him — truly close — are more likely to go through it and go through with the risk. If that's the case, we'll consider them."

Patti Cassidy said the family was flooded with good wishes since the article was published, and more than a dozen people had expressed interest in donating part of their liver. Of that number, she thinks about four might fit the criteria. Philosophe noted that an officer and friend of Cassidy had already been screened.

"We're just extremely careful about donors," Philosophe said.

Dozens of officers, some on-duty, some retired, visited the police union lodge in Hampden on Monday to donate blood in honor of Cassidy and other first responders. State Police spokesman Greg Shipley and at least one former deputy commissioner were among those who gave blood.

A familiar refrain from many of the officers who attended, such as Sgt. George Trainor: "It's the least I can do."

"He's a brother in blue, and we all help each other out like a family," said Officer Andrew Zdura, a bike patrol officer who visited the lodge along with Officer Edwin Lane.

Gene Cassidy, meanwhile, remains hopeful. "I pray to God that we'll find somebody," he said.

jfenton@baltsun.com

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