By Kay Stellpflug
When food, clothing, and household items are needed by the food pantry, PAVE, St. Vincent de Paul, or Goodwill, many people respond with donations. When fire victims and natural disaster organizations call, we all know what we can do. But when someone needs a live organ donated so they can go on living a happy and productive life, most of us never hear about it and wouldn’t know that we could help.
Last month, InSpire Magazine gave you the moving story about Kathy Clements, who gave a kidney to her sister. We know that family members can donate organs when a loved one is in need. But many of us don’t know that we can donate an organ to a non-family member, in fact, to a total stranger if we are a match, and that is what 118 people did last year alone at University Hospital.
“We know that living donation leads to a far more successful transplant than deceased donation. The best case scenario is getting a transplant without having been on dialysis first. Our living donor program continues to grow every year and that is exciting,” said Christine Lillesand, Senior Clinical Transplant Coordinator at UW Health. Pastor Phillip Heyer wasn’t a match for his son. When it became apparent that his son was going to need a transplant, Pastor Heyer placed himself on the kidney donor exchange program. This allows pairs of people to donate kidneys. His kidney went to a sixty-seven year old man in New York, whose son donated a kidney for pastor Heyer’s son. As Pastor Heyer said, “What an amazing gift God has given us to take care of life! There are knowledge, wisdom, abilities, technologies, and medicines to find and transplant organs and share life.”
His son was freed from the constraints of dialysis and the protracted wait for a deceased donor.
Jenny Goss knows all too well about relatives matching or not and about waiting for someone else to be willing to donate a kidney. She is on the kidney transplant waiting list, and it is often three to five years before getting to the top of the list. By then, dialysis and continued degeneration can take its toll.
Jenny has lived in Beaver Dam all her life, has been employed by Beaver Dam Community Hospital for 28 years, and has worked in many departments. She currently works as the assistant to the Director of Hillside Home Care and Hospice Department and as a Systems Specialist. She has played the flute in the Beaver Dam Area Orchestra for 34 years and is committed to this community.
She has been married 26 years to her husband Ed Goss and they have a 15-year-old daughter, Kalie. Jenny has a few goals these days, and they are the goals of every parent and every adult child. She hopes to be able to watch her daughter grow into a beautiful woman and be around for her parents who may need her, since they have health issues as well.
“This all started about twenty years ago,” Goss begins. At that time she went to her doctor for an unrelated issue and it was discovered that her blood pressure was unusually high. After monitoring her for a week, they discovered it wasn’t just a fluke, and she was put on blood pressure medication. Then the year before their daughter was born, she had a miscarriage, and they did an MRI and some blood work to discover that her kidneys were only functioning at about 50% back then. “It was hard to know what caused the kidney damage, except for the undiagnosed high blood pressure,” she recalls.
“My kidney function has slowly declined since then, even with keeping my blood pressure under control. Right now I am at 13% and when it gets down to 10% I will have to go on dialysis, so I am hoping and praying for a donor.” Family members have been ineligible so far, and the hardest thing for Jenny is to have to ask, but maybe, just maybe, there is someone who is willing to share this gift of life.
“Kidney disease is the silent killer, because I don’t feel any symptoms. In fact, if they wouldn’t have done lab work so long ago, my kidneys may have failed much sooner. As it is, going on dialysis may lower my chances of a successful transplant from a deceased donor in four to five years. It is overwhelming and scary to be facing this,” added Goss.
With family members either not matching or not being able to donate because of existing health issues themselves, Jenny is patiently waiting, hopeful for a donor. Rebecca Hays, Living Donor Social Worker for UW Hospitals and Clinics, is encouraging about both non-related matches and exchange matches. “When a medically approved donor doesn’t match with their loved one, they can exchange or trade. The pair trade donors so both recipients get kidneys from a compatible donor,” she reported. (This is what Pastor Heyer participated in.) Wisconsin has one of the highest rates of deceased organ donors in the country. That says something pretty special about the people of our state,” added Hayes. “As more people consider participating in live donation, Wisconsin will continue to give the gift of life.”
Donors are fully screened and educated on the long and short term risks and effects of the surgery. They are also given a complete medical evaluation. Kidney donation does not change lifestyle, the length of your life, or your risk of getting kidney disease. Donating a live organ doesn’t affect the ability to have children or participate in activities. Four to six weeks after surgery, there are typically no restrictions on physical activity. All treatment-related medical costs are covered by insurance.
There are many things to consider, and a social worker, nurse, kidney specialist, and transplant surgeon are all on a team to explain and assist the process.
“For me, it was a way a father could share life with his son. It allowed him to live a normal life with his new bride,” said Pastor Heyer.
For Jenny Goss, it would be the opportunity to continue working, playing the flute in the orchestra, being there for her parents, and seeing her daughter into adulthood, maybe even dancing at her wedding. This is not asking too much of life.
Kathy Clements adds, “I can’t imagine being in the recipient’s place and needing an organ to survive. It must be so difficult to ask someone for such a gift. Donating to a stranger can be just as much of a blessing as donating to a family member. Saving a life is an incredible thing. I was thankful to be able to do it.”
Note: To learn more about being a potential donor go to: http://www.uwhealth.org/transplant. To register as an organ donor in Wisconsin go to: http://donatelifewisconsin.org. Transplant office number: (608) 263-1384
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