DAISY certificates

Getting Their Flowers: MTN Staff Earn a DAISY Team Award

The excitement in “We won a DAISY with WMC!!!!” says a lot.

The story behind the sentiment says even more.

In December 2023, a car accident sent Dwayne ‘D Dub’ Moenning to the emergency department at Wesley Healthcare in Wichita, Kansas. He was cared for by a Surgical Intensive Care Unit for about a week, but despite efforts to save him, he passed away. Moenning’s family chose to donate their son’s organs. And they wanted his classmates to attend his honor walk. The school is more than an hour’s drive to the hospital.

MTN’s Impact
Midwest Transplant Network staff Midge Dempsey, Family Services Coordinator II, and Nikki Dixon, Hospital Services Coordinator II, work in the Wichita satellite office. They served on the team that supported the Moenning family, and both made an impact.

Dempsey describes her job as supporting families “during one of the worst days of their lives by giving them hope and to allow them to experience joy amidst their pain.”

Dempsey explained that when the time came to approach the Moenning family about donation, they struggled with the decision, but after conversation and explaining the organ donation process, they “eventually verbalized how important it was for D Dub to save lives.” Soon, Dempsey was helping the family plan an honor walk and coordinating efforts to bring classmates and community members from their small town to the hospital.

“They were finding comfort in donation and how D Dub would be honored.”

Earning The DAISY Team Award
The DAISY Team Award is designed to honor collaboration by two or more people, led by a nurse, who identify and meet patient and patient family needs by going above and beyond the traditional role of nursing.

Wesley Healthcare presented The DAISY Team Award to a multi-disciplinary SICU team that included partners and others who had an instrumental role in the Moenning’s story. The ceremony was held May 8, in the heart of National Nurses Week.

“Earning a DAISY Team Award brings validation to my life and reminds me that I am following the path that has been paved for me. This award brings me joy because I know that I was able to provide someone with something they needed at a given time,” said Dempsey.

As a Hospital Services Coordinator, Dixon is responsible for “education, onboarding, policy development and problem-solving. Most importantly, I teach hospital staff when to refer patients to MTN and help facilitate the relationship between the hospital and Midwest Transplant Network.”

Dixon’s thoughts about the honor are similar. “Earning The DAISY Team Award as part of a hospital/MTN team is a blessing. We work very closely with the hospital team and winning an award together is a testament to that partnership.”

There’s another layer to the award for Dixon. “I spent my bedside nursing career in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at Wesley, so this hospital is dear to my heart. I am very proud to serve Wesley as their MTN Hospital Services Coordinator. Organ donation saved my late father’s life twice, so I am honored to be part of this mission.”

About The DAISY Award
The DAISY Award was established by the family of J. Patrick Barnes in honor of the care he received after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease at the age of 33, in 1999. While he was hospitalized, his family “experienced the best of nursing.”

After Barnes died, his wife created the acronym DAISY – Diseases Attacking the Immune System – and the family created a not-for-profit organization, and The DAISY Award for Extraordinary Nurses began at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance at the University of Washington Medical Center. The DAISY Award is described as “the first program of its kind to give patients, families, and co-workers a way to express their gratitude to nurses for what they became nurses to do – provide compassionate care to patients and their families.”

The DAISY Award has become a strategic tool for nurse recruitment, retention and resilience that has been adopted by healthcare organizations and schools of nursing in the U.S. and around the world.  Learn more about the program from The DAISY Foundation.

 

 

Two ladies holding certificates in front of a star-themed background.

Midge Dempsey and Nikki Dixon, Midwest Transplant Network, pose with The DAISY Team Award certificates they received at a ceremony at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita, Kansas.

Four ladies posing for a picture in front of a star-themed background.

Midge Dempsey, Jennifer Scheuber, Amy Keith, Wesley Medical Center, and Nikki Dixon are all smiles at The DAISY Awards celebration.

A group of people holding certificates.

Wesley Healthcare recognized its Surgical Intensive Care Unit with The DAISY Team Award at a ceremony during National Nurses Week.

 

A pressed flower butterly.

Midwest Transplant Network Presents Annual Awards for Organ, Eye and Tissue Donation Excellence

Midwest Transplant Network staff members recognize their partners in saving lives through organ, eye and tissue donation by presenting the annual Excellence in Donation Awards to hospitals, individuals and organizations in our community.

Based on 2023 donation outcomes, Midwest Transplant Network presents the Excellence in Organ and Tissue Donation Awards to hospitals that had a higher-than-average number of families granting authorization for donation. The organization also gives these awards to exceptional partners in hospitals; licensing, treasury and Department of Revenue offices; medical examiner officers; funeral homes and beyond. These individuals made an extraordinary contribution to Midwest Transplant Network’s lifesaving mission.

 

Butterflies and Organ Donation

The butterfly holds deep symbolism in organ, eye and tissue donation. The butterfly is associated with hope, renewal and transformation; just as a caterpillar undergoes metamorphosis to become a butterfly, organ donation represents a transformative process for donor families and transplant recipients – the gift of life that brings hope to those in need.

Award honorees received a beautiful, pressed flower butterfly print by artist Ashley Foster. She believes that flowers symbolize joy, love and gratitude.

 

2024 Excellence in Donation Honorees

Midwest Transplant Network collaborates with 250 hospitals and recognized the following:

Organ and tissue excellence: Overland Park Regional Medical Center, Freeman Health System, Hays Medical Center, Lee’s Summit Medical Center, Saint Luke’s East Hospital, Capital Region Medical Center, Hutchinson Regional Medical Center.

Organ excellence: AdventHealth South Overland Park, Mercy Hospital Joplin, Centerpoint Medical Center, Stormont Vail Health Care, The University of Kansas Health System, Olathe Medical Center, Liberty Hospital, Saint Luke’s North Hospital.

Tissue excellence: Mosaic Life Care, AdventHealth Shawnee Mission, Salina Regional Health Center, The University of Kansas Health System St. Francis Campus, Kansas Medical Center, Nevada Regional Medical Center.

 

In addition to hospitals, Midwest Transplant Network collaborates with countless individuals and teams and recognized the following:

Individual and group honorees: Olivia Zhang, CST, University of Missouri Health Care; Amy Keith, BSN, Wesley Medical Center; Crystal Vail, RN, BSN, Freeman; Ciara Wright, Ph.D, The University of Kansas Health System; Johnson County Medical Examiner’s Office; Deborah Washam, RN, MS, Greater Kansas City Black Nurses Association; Anthony Harrington, MD, Blue Sky Neurology, Research Medical Center; Naftali Presser, MD, Research Medical Center; Bhargava Mullapudi, MD, Children’s Mercy Kansas City; Andrew Widman, volunteer Ambassador.

 

About Midwest Transplant Network

Midwest Transplant Network has been connecting lives through organ donation since 1973. As the federally designated not-for-profit organ procurement organization (OPO) for Kansas and the western two-thirds of Missouri, Midwest Transplant Network provides services including organ procurement; surgical tissue and eye recovery; laboratory testing; and 24-hour rapid response for referrals from hospital partners. Midwest Transplant Network ranks in the top 10% in the country among OPOs, which reflects the organization’s quality, professionalism and excellence in partnerships throughout the region. For more information, visit mwtn.org.

 

 

A butterfly made of pressed flowers in a photo frame.

A pressed flower butterfly print given to award honorees at MTN’s Excellence in Donation ceremony.

Guests seated at a table at an awards celebration.

Guests at MTN’s annual Excellence in Donation Awards ceremony smile for a photo.

A man at a podium holding a microphone.

Andrew Widman, MTN Ambassador, speaking at the podium at MTN’s Excellence in Donation Awards ceremony.

Bubble ceremony

Excellence in Donation Awards ceremony guests participating in a bubble remembrance.

Scot Pollard’s Transplant Journey: A Big Heart for a Big Legend

A tall man in a hospital room, wearing a hospital gown and standing with a walker.

Scot Pollard stands with a walker in a hospital room during his care as he underwent a heart transplant. Photo provided by the Pollard family.

At 6’11”, Scot Pollard’s size has often been credited as a gift, propelling him into an 11-year NBA career following his legendary time with the Kansas Jayhawks men’s basketball team, during which he helped Kansas reach the NCAA Sweet 16 four seasons in a row.

In 2021, Pollard’s heart health began to rapidly decline due to a hereditary condition exacerbated by a contracted virus. It eventually became apparent that most medical solutions would not be enough. He needed a new heart, and more than that, he needed a really big one.

The respective body size of an organ donor and a registered transplant candidate are factors in determining whether a successful transplant is possible – especially for a heart. In the case of someone as large as Pollard, the odds of finding a match are lower.

“It’s not like being tall is a curse. It’s not. It’s still a blessing. But, I have known my entire life that there’s a good chance I wasn’t going to get old,” said Pollard in an interview with the Associated Press. “And so it gives you a different perspective on how you live your life and how you treat people and all that kind of stuff.”

Pollard and his wife, Dawn, revealed his condition on social media in January. They went on to post updates and participate in news interviews to share his progress, which in turn raised national awareness for the complexities surrounding organ transplantation and the importance of organ donation.

He underwent a successful heart transplant surgery on Feb. 16, after which he “immediately felt better.” Just 13 days later, he strutted out of the hospital to a chorus of applause.

Through this journey, Pollard has learned about the lifesaving gift of organ donation, and even hopes to one day connect with the family of his donor hero. “I would love to show them this heart isn’t going to waste.” Every donor hero can save up to eight lives, and Pollard hopes that by educating his friends, neighbors and fans, he can contribute to this life-saving work. “I’m going to annoy people with becoming a donor. That’s going to be a project for the rest of my life,” he said.

In honor of National Donate Life Month, Midwest Transplant Network is proud to recognize Scot Pollard as a Green Ribbon Champion for his openness about his transplant journey and advocacy for organ donation. Green Ribbon Champions are individuals who are passionate about increasing the number of registered organ donors in their communities, understanding that a simple “yes” can help give hope and share life to the thousands in need of life-saving organ transplants.

Midwest Transplant Network invites you to consider joining your state’s organ donor registry and encourage others to do the same. Learn more about the types of donation, including the option to be a living donor, and the incredibly positive emotional experiences of organ donor families and transplant recipients.

Join the organ, eye and tissue donor registry in Kansas and Missouri at ShareLifeMidwest.com or join the national donor registry at RegisterMe.org.

An Air Force pilot sitting in the cockpit of a military aircraft.

MTN Staff Spotlight – Kelly Timmermann

An Air Force pilot sitting in the cockpit of a military aircraft.

Kelly Timmermann can fly. She’s a Corporate Pilot PIC I for Midwest Transplant Network. Her career began as an Air Force pilot and she retired as Lt. Col. Timmermann in late 2023.

March is Women’s History Month, designated by presidential proclamation in 1980. Now, Women’s History Month is an annual observance to highlight the achievements, contributions, influence and impact of women.

Midwest Transplant Network recognizes and celebrates the diversity of our staff. We appreciate sharing the stories of staff who represent different experiences that positively impact our culture and mission.


Kelly Timmermann, Corporate Pilot PIC I

Kelly Timmermann can fly. From the Air Force to Midwest Transplant Network, her career as a pilot has taken her around the world and across the country. In late 2023, Lt. Col. Timmermann retired from the Air Force after 23 years as a pilot, having experienced 13 deployments and 1,940 combat hours. She joined MTN in 2022 as a Corporate Pilot PIC I, responsible for transporting teams to cases in the mission of saving and enhancing lives through organ, eye and tissue donation.


In 50 words or less, explain your job in the Air Force like you’re talking to someone without a military background.

I began my Air Force journey as an intelligence analyst. After two years, I switched my career path to become a pilot. I primarily flew an air refueling airplane, the KC-135. But I also had the opportunity to fly distinguished passengers in the Gulfstream IV and Gulfstream V aircraft, with many leadership roles along the way.


What influence did female mentors, role models or colleagues have on your military service, education or life in general?

Most of my superiors, mentors and colleagues were men. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities and leadership over the years. But you asked about women, and my very best friendships have been amazing women – family, Air Force friends, and high school friends. I’ve had a solid support network, sounding board, and sometimes a good kick in the pants (when warranted) from my ladies. Having someone invest in your success whole-heartedly is validating and empowering. I owe my success to those who believed in me.


March is Women’s History Month. What does it mean to you to have had a successful career as a pilot in the Air Force?

I am proud that I was able to choose a path in the Air Force that allowed me both professional and personal progression. Professionals of all backgrounds face difficult decisions to balance family and work-life. Women have the added consideration of bearing children. Choosing to be an Air Force pilot was one of the biggest decisions of my life. I knew it would mean frequent travel and moving, and I knew it was possible I would do it alone. It’s tough to meet people when you’re not in a place that’s home. I’m a little amazed and grateful that I was able to navigate a career, have a family and meet my goals as a pilot, but I did it!


What motivated you to become a pilot? What kept you motivated?

I didn’t consider a pilot career until I was in the Air Force. I knew it was a marketable skill and I was fascinated to find a professional path that would give me an office in an airplane! I’ve always been aware of long-term stability and choosing a job was another item for consideration. There is a huge need for pilots, and that equates to long-term stability. As for motivation, that’s the only way I know how to do things…to be motivated.


Where’d you train to become a pilot?

I trained for my private pilot’s license at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. My Air Force Undergraduate Pilot training was at Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas.


What’s your advice to women who want to pursue aviation?

Make it happen. If you are willing to work for it, it is achievable!


If your career imitated a movie, which movie would it be?

I couldn’t find one about determination and persistence without a heartbreaking tragedy to overcome. Haha!


If you hadn’t become a pilot, what would you have done for your career?

I do not know! I narrowed it down to psychology and counseling but was also interested in the medical field. See? Varied interests make it tough to decide, so why not fly?

A mother and two children gather around a cake with a sparkling candle.

Kelly Timmermann and her children are smiling in excitement at a sparkling candle in the center of a small cake.


Now that you’ve retired from the Air Force, do you have a retirement bucket list? What’s one thing you’d share from your list?

My husband is still in the Air Force, so we will make a bucket list when it is his time to retire. However, the short-term benefit is I only have one job, instead of a second job with the Air Force Reserve, and I spend the extra time with my two awesome kiddos.

 

From your perspective, how does your role at Midwest Transplant Network impact organ donation and transplantation?

We give MTN the ability to have someone spend an hour of travel instead of four hours of travel at the beginning and the end of a 24-hour shift. This is essential! I feel directly connected to perpetuating this awesome mission because the airplane helps lower attrition. Additionally, being able to take a team to an OR and then bring them home cuts a lot of stress and work from logistics planning. I know our staff are appreciative when the airplane is available to relieve the burden of travel and we are happy to be part of the mission.

 

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about organ donation?

I was not familiar with organ donation at all, except that you’re asked the question at the DMV about becoming an organ donor. Learning about the process has helped me to stress to my family and friends how important it is to make your decision known for organ donation. It makes a difference and alleviates family stress when the worst happens.

 

Where are you from?

Salisbury, Missouri.

 

It’s March Madness! You’re hosting a Women’s Final Four Championship party. What snacks are you serving?

I’m serving hot wings, guac and chips, pizza, and everybody brings a favorite. Sharing is caring!

A large U.S. Air Force plane.

Kelly Timmermann poses in front of a U.S. Air Force plane.

A woman wearing a black ball cap that reads Afghanistan Veteran.

Lt. Col. Kelly Timmermann retired from the U.S. Air Force after a 23-year career as a pilot.

Rev. Isaac Ruffin, an African American male, wearing a colorful scarf representing Black heritage, standing in front of an art display of glass plates in various shades of primary colors.

Celebrating Black History Month: Rev. Isaac Ruffin

Rev. Isaac Ruffin, an African American male, wearing a colorful scarf representing Black heritage, standing in front of an art display of glass plates in various shades of primary colors

Rev. Isaac Ruffin, a Family Services Coordinator II at Midwest Transplant Network, shares his perspective in honor of Black History Month.

For more than 19 years, the Rev. Isaac Ruffin, Family Services Coordinator II, has served Midwest Transplant Network (MTN) donor families with all of his heart and soul. He has a passion for walking alongside families who are experiencing an unexpected loss and offering comfort, lending a kind and listening ear, and sharing how donation can help extend their loved one’s legacy.

“For my generation, with all of the history we have seen, Black History Month is a celebration of the coming to fruition of a people,” shared Ruffin. “It is a time to be seen as equals and fulfill our dreams, hopes, aspirations and our true potential.”

He’s inspired by his grandfathers – one a pastor and the other a deacon. Through their ministry, they served congregations, raised large families and were role models of compassion and integrity.

While completing his Clinical Pastoral Education at Research Medical Center, Ruffin had the opportunity to work with MTN as a hospital chaplain in caring for several donor families. He was very aware of some of the cultural concerns about organ donation within the Black American community. “I want to serve others and build trust with underserved and diverse communities as a face within one of those cultures myself.”

He understands the impact donation can have on an individual, a family and a community as his brother received the gift of a transplant many, many years ago. His work with donor families has always been about giving back as a part of his personal ministry and for the gift his brother and their family received.

Known for his quiet, infinite readiness to serve others, Rev. Ruffin finds peace in creating memories of donor heroes with their families. Over his almost two decades of service, countless families have experienced the love he brings when supporting them in making the generous decision to donate life on their most difficult day. He has built many bridges of trust – one family at a time – significantly impacting and bettering our community. MTN is eternally grateful for Rev. Ruffin as his joyful presence has made the same profound difference in every one of us.

In recognition of Black History Month, Rev. Ruffin shares his favorite poem, “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou.

MTN Community Spotlight: Imagine the impact of a generous donation

A middle school multipurpose room with a performance stage. Rows of black stackable chairs with slips of purple paper to mark seat numbers for the ticketed show. Long tables filled with brightly wrapped candy, sweet treats and the smell of spun sugar from a cotton candy machine complement the anticipation.

It’s opening night.

The lights dim.

The curtain rises.

The show begins.

“Come with me, and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination. Take a look and you’ll see into your imagination.” ~ Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory

 

Students and families at Harmony Middle School in the Blue Valley School District raised $2,856 from their spring musical, “Willy Wonka,” and donated the ticket sales to Midwest Transplant Network in honor of a donor hero family.

Annually, the student cast gets to nominate a charity. Students give a quick speech about an organization that’s had an impact on them, and the cast votes to choose “the most deserving.” David Davis, theater director at Harmony Middle School, said this is the 15th year of the benefit performance.

Five people standing center stage in front of a curtain. Fourth person from the left is holding a microphone and reading from a sheet of paper.

The Dirks family and Midwest Transplant Network staff are center stage during intermission at Harmony Middle School in the Blue Valley School District.

This year, students Belle and Beau Dirks successfully advocated for MTN with their personal story. Their father, Josh Dirks, passed away in November 2021 and became an organ donor hero by way of his heart.

During intermission, the Dirks family took center stage – Belle and Beau, mom Tiffany, and sister Ella. Belle shared their organ donation journey from written remarks while Beau held a large, framed photo of their dad. Their grandparents, younger sister and family friends were in the audience, beaming with pride and emotion.

“…The day he went to heaven was the hardest day of my life. We were in his hospital room when they told us that he wasn’t coming home. There were so many people in the room, but I remember one lady, Ms. Gretchen, from Midwest Transplant Network. She hugged all of us and told us that it was going to be ok.

“…She told us what it means to be a donor, how important his decision was, and how he would be able to help someone else continue to live. Then, she laid a blanket on him that had the word HERO printed on it.”

Belle shared more of their story, then closed with a clear call to action:

“I know it is a difficult decision to become an organ donor, but I encourage you to sign up. Their motto is GIVE HOPE, SHARE LIFE — and that is what you do when you sign up to be an organ donor.

“You never know, you just might become a HERO in someone else’s story – Just like my daddy did!!”

The audience applauded.

The lights dimmed.

Five people are center stage during intermission at a school musical, posing for a photo.

The Dirks family and MTN staff after presenting a contribution to Midwest Transplant Network. From left to right: Tiffany Dirks, mom; Nichole Asquith, MTN; Beau holds a photo of Josh Dirks, father and donor hero; Belle and Ella Dirks.

And the show went on.

Midwest Transplant Network is appreciative to the students, families, teachers and staff of Harmony Middle School and their generous contribution to support organ, eye and tissue donation, and MTN is humbled to be a part of the Dirks family organ donation journey.

Please learn more about what it means to become a registered organ donor at mwtn.org.

A headshot of Taylor Brookins.

MTN Staff Spotlight — Taylor Brookins

Portrait image of Taylor Brookins

Taylor Brookins

Midwest Transplant Network is a co-sponsor of the OneLegacy Donate Life Rose Parade® float, which will be featured in the 2024 Rose Parade®. The OneLegacy Donate Life float honors the memory of donor heroes from across the country, including Jayme Sue Louque of Olathe, Kansas, a 14-year-old organ, eye and tissue donor. The float features a floragraph portrait of Jayme Sue made of organic materials.

MTN chooses a staff member to travel with the donor family to the Rose Parade® and we want to take a moment to share the connection and invite you to watch the 2024 Rose Parade® on Jan. 1 at 8 a.m. PST/10 a.m. CST on ABC, NBC or Univision.

 

MTN Staff Spotlight…

Taylor Brookins, LCSW, Manager, Family Services

Taylor’s professional career as a medical social worker includes experience in hospice, in-patient palliative care, pediatric intensive care, and end-of-life care. She has a Master of Social Work from the University of Kansas and is a licensed clinical social worker. She joined Midwest Transplant Network in April 2021 as a Family Services Coordinator and transitioned to her current role in April 2022. Taylor will accompany Wendy and Bryan Louque and their family to the 2024 Rose Parade® in honor of their daughter, Jayme Sue, who became a donor hero at age 14.


Explain your job as if you’re talking to a stranger in Target.

“I’d explain what MTN does as a whole, and I’d say that I work with donor heroes and donor families, and we walk families through the process of organ and tissue transplantation.

“I usually explain that I used to go into different hospitals and worked directly with families, and now I’ve transitioned into a manager role, and I support Family Services Coordinators who work with donor families in the hospitals.”


Did you have any hesitation about accepting the opportunity to support the Louque family? Why or why not?

“No hesitation. I was really excited! It’s an honor and I’m thankful to get to go. I know how important this is for the family and it’s truly an honor.”

 

What’s your connection to the Louque family?

“The Louque family brought up donation very early on during Jayme Sue’s hospitalization. They’re a giving family. I was the Family Services Coordinator who met with the family and supported them during the donation process. That was November 2021. I couldn’t believe it’s been two years. It doesn’t feel like it.”

 

Tell us three things you’re looking forward to about the Rose Parade experience.

“Being around donor families at the Rose Parade; in the work we do, we see families on their worst day, and the parade is a way to see the families celebrating loved ones.

“I’m looking forward to going with the family to decorate and put the finishing touches on the parade float, and mostly, I’m looking forward to being able to honor Jayme Sue and her family.

“The Louques are a very deserving donor family. They’re so passionate about donation because they’ve experienced it on both sides. Wendy is a living donor, and Bryan is a two-time kidney recipient – one from his wife, and from a deceased donor.”


What’s your favorite holiday memory?

“We always celebrated Christmas at my great grandma’s house in Wyoming, and she lived in a log home that my family actually built. It’s the epitome of a Christmas home. My great grandma and uncle decorated it every Christmas. It was super cozy, and my brother and cousins…we always spent that time together.

“My favorite memory is that my uncle dressed up as Santa Claus – we didn’t know it was him at the time – and they made the sound of reindeer hooves on the roof, and we could see Santa’s legs dangling in the window as he was getting ready to go to the chimney. The next morning, when we woke up, Santa had taken pictures of him drinking milk and eating cookies and left us notes…just such a special memory to know the lengths my family took to make Christmas special for us.”


What’s your favorite holiday side dish and your least favorite – as in you will not eat it?

“My favorite is definitely mashed potatoes, but I do mix corn with my mashed potatoes, so it’s like a dual side dish. The side dish I won’t eat is stuffing. I just don’t like stuffing. I never have and I never eat it.”


What’s your most memorable gift from when you were a kid?

“Oh my gosh…I can’t remember a gift, but I remember the feeling of being at my great grandma’s with my cousins. My family would make so much food, and my great grandma would make iced sugar cookies that were my favorite. And there would be so many desserts and pies…that’s what I remember.”


What’s your motivation to keep doing the work you do every day?

“When you’re a medical social worker, your motivation is to make a difference and to help people. In the roles I’ve had, there is not a lot of hope. But at MTN, everyone who works here makes a difference every day and saves lives. We get to witness family selflessness, and we get to offer hope on someone’s worst day. This is the best place to work and it’s an honor to do what we do.”


Is there anything you’d like to share that could offer a different perspective about organ donation?

“Something that I learned from Drew [Toler] is that donation doesn’t take away a family’s grief, but it provides peace and comfort on their grief journey. When someone is able to become a donor hero, they live on through others, and that can be comforting to a family.”

MTN Aviation: Serving the Mission through Flight

The grrrrrrrrr of a small plane speeding down a runway for takeoff; a shrill whistle and the clack, clack, clack of a freight train rolling down the tracks in the near distance; the whirling, choppy sound of an aircraft unseen.

These are the sounds of the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport in Kansas City on a Wednesday morning, but the office of Midwest Transplant Network’s Aviation department is quiet. Inside the hangar, a plane sits at the ready to serve the mission of organ donation.

It’s 9 a.m. MTN Pilots Tom Carnahan and Tim Overman greet Genny Ly, a new Organ Procurement Coordinator, to show her the plane – an orientation to prepare for the moment she’ll be on a team that flies out for an organ recovery case.

Carnahan demonstrates how to open and close the door to board the plane, safety features inside the cabin, how to open the emergency exit and more. Walking around the plane, Carnahan points out areas along the wings to be careful; at the rear of the plane, he opens a small compartment revealing a cargo space for bags and equipment.

The plane, a Citation C3J+, has two seats in the front for pilots and eight seats in back. Most are window seats.

After touring the plane and the office, Overman and Carnahan chat with Ly before she goes to MTN’s headquarters to continue the day.

 

Mission Critical

“We are the only OPO in the country that owns and operates its aircraft. There are a few others who have a dedicated aircraft; however, they are managed by a charter service or other outside agency. The pilots and staff who work in MTN’s Aviation department are actual employees of MTN. MTN as an organization is also registered with the FAA as Part 91,” explained Lori Markham, RN, MSN, CCRN, Vice President & Chief Clinical Officer, MTN.

“Midwest Transplant Network is the sixth largest OPO by geography. With our aircraft, we’re able to respond quickly to donor hospitals anywhere in our service area. Because we can mobilize quickly, we are able to support our hospital partners, donor families and recover organs efficiently to maximize the gifts. Forty percent of overall donor patients are outside of the Kansas City metro, so having our own plane and pilots are critical.

“Otherwise, we’d rely on ground transportation – which could take hours – or we’d have to rely on charter or plane services that may not be readily available when needed.”

 

Being an MTN Pilot

Overman and Carnahan are two of nine pilots at MTN. It’s a fully staffed department, and both agree that having a full team makes a difference in work-life balance.

“It helps to be able to share the workload. We can make connections with each other, talk through needs, and it also means that the team can provide MTN full service.”

There are always two pilots on flights to transport a team and bring them back to Kansas City. The pilots know there is a time sensitivity with organs. The flight prep to get ready for a case includes weather and radars, wind speed and visibility, weight and balance for the plane to operate safely, filing a flight plan, determining alternate airports in case they can’t reach the actual destination and more.

Modern technology has made a difference in simplifying flight plans. “There were a lot of phone calls back in the day. Now we have GPS, digital apps and other tools, including the phone.”

Lemoine Davis, MBA, PMP, Manager, Aviation, leads the department.

“The MTN Aviation mission is ‘To provide safe, professional and efficient air transportation in response to MTN needs.’ Without the department, we would be strained to service our region as timelines to respond would be significantly increased or the cost to operate would increase as charters and ground transportation would be our only options.

“The training the pilots undergo regarding organ donation is informational, not technical. We provide a broad overview of the donation process and expand upon the areas they can, or might, influence. It gives the Aviation team an understanding of the importance of their role, the hazards associated with their cargo, and a general overview of how the aircraft is utilized,” said Davis.

 


Flexible and Responsive

Each day is different for staff at MTN, including pilots.

“A typical workday for our pilots includes coming on shift, either morning or evening, and waiting to be activated to fly within our service area. If during their shift they are not called out to fly, they could be fulfilling administrative duties or volunteering for an event within the organization. Our pilots are not required to work from the hangar as long as they can adhere to the two-hour callout timeline,” said Davis.

“The team who flies on the aircraft when transporting an organ can vary. Typically, we are flying the organ procurement team that includes an organ procurement coordinator, organ procurement preservation specialist, an organ procurement technician and/or family services staff.”

He described a recent fly-out to Joplin, Missouri, for a recovery.

“The pilots on shift flew the team out in the evening, waited on the ground for a few hours while the procedure took place, and later returned to Kansas City with the team who’d successfully recovered organs. They also brought back two additional passengers whose shift had ended.

“Overall, this took roughly four hours, which would’ve been significantly longer if they had to travel by car, or it would’ve cost more if MTN had to use charter services.”

 

MTN Aviation Fast Facts

1973 – Midwest Organ Bank created an in-house Aviation department at the urging of the Federal Aviation Administration to “ensure the safety of staff members and transplantable organs.”

2023 – Midwest Transplant Network is marking 50 years of Aviation and is the only organ procurement organization in the U.S. that owns and operates an aircraft. MTN staff can mobilize quickly to anywhere within the service area to support hospital partners and recover organs to maximize the gift of life.

  • Number of pilots: Five full-time and four part-time pilots
  • Range of experience: 8-48 years
  • Average experience: 20 years
  • Aviation career experience: military, private charter, private company, medical evacuation, regional airlines, flying bush planes in Alaska, or flying retired military aircraft.
  • Flight hours: Approximately 7.5 hours a week or 30 hours per month.
  • MTN service area: 150,000 sq miles covering the state of Kansas and western Missouri

 

A man standing next to the open door of a plane and talking to a woman.

Tom Carnahan, MTN pilot, and Genny Ly, organ procurement coordinator, stand outside the door of MTN’s aircraft during an orientation. The hangar door is open to a view of the downtown Kansas City skyline.

A small aircraft in an airplane hangar.

MTN’s airplane in the hangar, ready and waiting for its next flyout.

A pilot sits at the controls of a small plane.

Tim Overman, MTN pilot, sits at the controls of the plane to show the various screens of radar and other details necessary while flying a plane.

Pilots standing in formation in front of a plane owned by Midwest Transplant Network.

Midwest Transplant Network pilots in front of the MTN plane at the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport in Kansas City, Missouri.

MTN logo

Partner Spotlight — Lisa Miller, Jackson County, Kansas, Treasurer’s Office

Midwest Transplant Network partners with licensing, treasury and Department of Revenue offices in Kansas and western Missouri to grow the organ, eye and tissue donor registry. We spoke with Lisa Miller, Deputy Treasurer of the Jackson County, Kansas, Treasurer’s Office about why donation is so important to her.

Jackson County, Kansas Deputy Treasurer Lisa Miller

Jackson County, Kansas, Deputy Treasurer Lisa Miller

How does your specific office help inform and educate patrons on the importance of joining the donor registry?

We display all of the items that are provided by MTN and also participate in the promotions for National Donate Life Month and National DMV Appreciation Month with a display in our office.

We have in the past had our pictures of our displays in the local newspaper.

Why do you feel your office’s efforts to promote the need for organ, eye and tissue donors are so important?

Our office has a personal connection to organ donation. We have two employees with relatives who are recipients of organ donation and one employee who is a living donor.

Tell us about your connection to organ, eye and tissue donation.

In April 2004, my husband became ill and ended up in the hospital with an infection. After many doctor’s appointments and several years later, he ended up in the hospital and was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy. Our belief is that the infection had attacked his heart. His cardiologist referred us to the Saint Luke’s transplant program. After spending the first half of 2014 in and out of the hospital, he was finally added to the transplant waitlist in July. He entered the hospital in October and received his heart in December. Since, he has been able to see two of his children get married and is enjoying his four grandchildren and hunting with his sons.

What is the biggest misconception you hear about donation in your personal and/or professional life?

That the medical professionals will not provide the care needed to save a life if they know that the individual is a donor.

If there is one thing you would want to share with others about the importance of joining the donor registry, what would it be?

It truly is a gift of life.

Headshot of Dawn Romano

Breast Reconstruction Awareness Story: Dawn Romano

Dawn Romano, LCSW, LSCSW, MTN Family Services Coordinator III, opened up about her breast reconstruction experience for Breast Reconstruction Awareness (BRA) Day

Headshot of Dawn Romano

Dawn Romano, MTN staff member and breast cancer survivor

Dawn Romano is a clinical social worker who works in organ and tissue donation as a Family Services Coordinator for Midwest Transplant Network. In April 2008, Dawn’s life changed when she was diagnosed with an early stage of breast cancer. After undergoing a lumpectomy and 33 rounds of radiation, Dawn believed she was cancer-free and continued on with her life.

Things changed in the summer 2015 when Dawn felt a lump on her breast. Later, while getting a mammogram and biopsies, doctors confirmed that they had found two tumors. The cancer had returned, this time more aggressive. “Tears streamed from my eyes,” she recalled. “Reality had slapped me in the face.”

Through four grueling months of chemotherapy treatment, hair loss and discouragement, Dawn found strength from her faith, friends and family to continue working in organ and tissue donation. After undergoing a double mastectomy, Dawn and her surgeon discussed the possibility of breast reconstruction. “Thankfully, from my work at Midwest Transplant Network, I knew enough to ask my surgeon whether they would use any human tissue during my surgery. He told me yes,” she shared.

Thanks to the gift of skin from two donor heroes, Dawn finally began to heal. Her experience has also helped her develop a deeper appreciation of her work, especially donor families. “We often hear that tissue donation is life-enhancing, but for many of us, it has saved our lives in many ways,” Dawn shared. “This gift has made a huge impact on my life. To all donor families, please accept my deepest and most sincere thank you. You and your loved ones have made a difference in so many people’s lives. And for that, they will always be remembered by people like me.”

Story courtesy of MTF Biologics