By Alecia Reid

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Penn Medicine’s transplant program is celebrating 55 years since its first transplant in 1966. That’s more than 12,500 solid organ transplants.

Georgeine Smith, the lead surgical physician assistant, has done thousands of organ procurements over her 13-year career at Penn. The gift of life is something she treasures, as she holds donors in the highest regard.

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“When you guys are sleeping, we’re working,” Smith said.

In the middle of the night or wee hours of the morning, Smith and her team are more than likely on a mission where every minute counts.

“Some of them died from a car accident, stroke, motorcycle accident. I had a patient that was in a fire, asthma,” Smith said.

And sometimes even a drug overdose. But once the call comes in, Smith and a small team will load into a car, chopper, or jet to the donor’s hospital, carefully removing the precious organ within 40 minutes to an hour.

“This is the most critical step in the transplants,” Smith said.

Smith harvests a myriad of organs, but liver procurement is her specialty. While she’s away working, a team back at Penn is prepping.

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“If the transplant surgeon is on the phone with you and says ‘can I put my patient to sleep? Is this organ good and can I put my patient to sleep?’ You have to know what you’re doing,” Smith said.

There’s a lot that goes into the perfect fit, including quality and size.

“If it’s not gonna fit it’s not gonna fit and has to go to somebody else,” she said.

Smith has seen patients transform from their death beds to a new chance at life. As she reflects on her years flying back and forth from the hospital’s rooftop, she gets emotional when paying respect to donors and their generous gift of life.

“This gives an opportunity for this person’s story to continue,” she said.

Smith believes donors are superheroes. She says none of this is possible without the help of donors. Although lofty, her wish is that everyone in need of an organ will get one. That’s why living donors are also critical.

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For more information on organ donations or if you are interested in becoming an organ donor, visit, or