Denise Tuten wasn't expected to see her second birthday. But now her legacy will continue for years.
Though Ms. Tuten died last year, money raised in her name decades before and the accumulated interest will help those like her who need a transplant at the Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics.
Ms. Tuten's kidney began to fail when she was 10 months old in 1974, and her family was told she wouldn't live two years, said her mother, Patricia.
"At that time, nothing was available for a child that small," she said. But Mrs. Tuten wouldn't accept that and she searched out all of the information she could, eventually coming across a successful kidney transplant in a 1-year-old at Children's Hospital in Boston. The doctors there were intrigued and thought they could help.
"They gave us hope," Mrs. Tuten said.
"We couldn't even afford a bus ticket" to Boston, she said. Her husband, Billy, was a policeman with the Augusta Police Department, and the family appealed to fellow officers.
"If I can just get us there," Mrs. Tuten told them, "I can sleep in the waiting room."
They did better than that. Through fliers and newspaper stories, word of Denise's battle spread.
With everything from car washes and concerts to people going door to door, they raised more than $90,000, which helped pay for Denise's transplant in 1978 and for other medical expenses.
The trust fund was well-managed through the years and carefully invested, so that it stood at $271,000 when the Tutens donated it to MCG.
The transplant program will use the funds to provide matching grants for patients who need financial assistance for a transplant, said Tom Wagner, the administrative officer for the transplant program at MCG.
The first year alone, the cost of the drugs is $29,000, he said. The Georgia Transplant Foundation also tries to provide financial assistance because it becomes an issue for almost every patient, Executive Director David Bakelman said.
"By donating a trust fund to helping additional people who normally could not pay for their prescription medication ... that's an unbelievable legacy, actually," he said.
And that's exactly what Ms. Tuten wanted, her mother said.
"When you stop and think about (the fact) that it actually originated here in the CSRA with a lot of caring people, and now we are able to let it continue to help others, I just think that's beautiful," Mrs. Tuten said.
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To donate to the Denise Tuten Endowment, call (706) 721-3957.
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