Prior to the early 1980s, transplantation was still considered to be experimental. Although surgical techniques for transplantation had been developed and organs had been transplanted successfully, the routine rejection of transplanted organs by the patient's immune system limited the opportunities for success. With the introduction of cyclosporine in 1983, the most commonly used anti-rejection medication, transplantation became more routine.
In 1983, Brian Reames, a heart transplant recipient at the Presbyterian University Hospital of Pittsburgh (currently named the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center [UPMC]), found little support for transplant recipients. Brian recognized the need for an organization to help transplant recipients and their families cope with the challenges they encountered during their transplant experience. With Brian's vision and leadership, and the dedication of other patients at the UPMC such as Frank Rowe, the local support group Transplant Recipients International Organization (TRIO) was founded. The book by Lee Gutkind ((Norton Publishing, 1988), titled 'Many Sleepless Nights:The World of Organ Transplantation' documents some of those founding members stories and the earliest days of TRIO.
In 1986, the Junior League of Pittsburgh and the transplant center at the University of Pittsburgh spearheaded a task force that determined that TRIO could best serve more people through an international, independent, parent organization with local chapters worldwide. To achieve this goal, in 1987, TRIO was incorporated as a not-for-profit organization and received tax exempt status under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Service code. The original group of TRIO members became the Pittsburgh Chapter, the founding chapter of TRIO.
Dr. Thomas Starzl accepted the position of Honorary Chairman of TRIO and committed his support to helping TRIO achieve its mission of serving those involved in the transplant experience. TRIO and its International Board of Directors were presented at the International Organ Transplant Forum in September of 1987.
By the early 1990's TRIO had grown and was hosting annual cconferences that attracted members from across the county as can be seen in the video recordings of the '91 and '92 conferences here:
TRIO held conferences for organ transplant recipients in Las Vegas in 1992 (Theme:"Celebrating Today: Challenging Tomorrow") and in Pittsburgh in 1991 (Theme: Real Heroes: Taking It to the Limit") More than celebrating life (which is certainly was), but also to show the world that transplantation works and to encourage viewers to say yes to registering their wishes to be an organ donor after they die, saving up to 20 or more lives with that gift decision.
In 1994, TRIO relocated its International headquarters to Washington, DC.
By the late 1990s, TRIO had grown to almost 4,000 members with 46 incorporated chapters throughout the world, serving its membership and the transplant community. TRIO mission dedicates itself to awareness by promoting organ, tissue and bone donation as an important social responsibility; providing support to the transplant candidate , recipients, donors and their families to help alleviate the stresses and challenges associated with the transplant process; providing transplant recipients, donors and their family members with current information and education about organ, tissue and bone marrow donation, transplantation, medications and finances; finally TRIO provides advocacy by making known to federal, state and local governing bodies the needs and concerns that affect the welfare of transplant candidates, recipients, donors and their families.
Today, TRIO is a smaller organization that maintains active chapters across the United States, Australia, Japan and Italy. Through the efforts of numerous dedicated volunteers, a small operating staff - i.e. one managing services director supported remotely by some volunteer members - and an active Board of Directors with a Medical Advisory Board, we continue to support TRIO Chapters and transplant recipients, donors, candidates and their families around the world.
TRIO serves the transplant community by providing services and information such as being a founding member of Donate Life Hollywood which actively advocates to the media for accurate portrayal of transplant issues, providing open forums encouraging issue discussion by members and non-members, sharing information through this website (www.trioweb.org) and its quarterly Lifelines newsletter and administering support programs, such as continuing educational scholarship awards and a partnership with United Airlines to provide flight assistance to the transplant candidates and their families.
As the need for organ transplantation increases, so too does the voice of TRIO. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Transplantation (DOT) recognizes TRIO as the organization representing transplant candidates, recipients, donors and their families and health care professionals. TRIO is a voting member of OPTN/UNOS and has several TRIO members who are now represented on various OPTN/UNOS Committees. We are active members on the Washington DC based “Transplant Roundtable”.