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

Breast Reconstruction Awareness Story: Lisa Cummins

In honor of Breast Reconstruction Awareness (BRA) Day, MTN Quality Assurance Coordinator II Lisa Cummins, ASQ-CQIA, spoke about her journey with breast reconstruction. 

Headshot of Lisa Cummins

Lisa Cummins, MTN staff member and breast cancer survivor

For over 40 years, Lisa Cummins has worked in organ and tissue donation at Midwest Transplant Network. Her story begins in 2001, when she was first diagnosed with a rare type of cancer found in her uterus. Following a hysterectomy and five rounds of chemo, Lisa celebrated being cancer-free, but not for long.

“I had just hit my five-year mark when they found my first breast cancer,” she recalled. Diagnosed with an early stage of DCIS, or ductal carcinoma in situ, Lisa again underwent intense radiation treatment and another major surgery — this time using donated tissue. For the second time, Lisa believed she was cancer-free before receiving terrible news.

“At my five-year anniversary appointment — the golden mark where cancer patients can consider themselves true survivors — they found my second breast cancer,” she shared. Doctors confirmed that the cancer had returned in the same breast, this time more aggressive. Surgeons presented Lisa with the option of a mastectomy — a decision she would take one step further. “I decided that I did not want to go through it all over again, so I opted to have a double mastectomy,” she explained. Afterwards, Lisa underwent breast reconstruction, becoming a tissue recipient for the second time.

Today, Lisa celebrates being 11, 16 and 21 years cancer-free! Thanks to the gift from her donor, she returns to helping others in organ and tissue donation with a deeper appreciation for her life and work. She even uses her story at local hospitals, video conferences and live events to aid others through their breast cancer journeys and share the positive impact of donation. “There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of my donor families and am thankful for their selfless act of donation,” Lisa said, smiling. “I do not know who they are, so at every chance I get, I tell donor families ‘THANK YOU!’ Without their gift of life, I wouldn’t have been able to have reconstructive surgery. I can now say I am a survivor!”

Story courtesy of MTF Biologics

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Partner Spotlight — Linda Gerhardt, Jackson County, Kansas, Treasurer’s Office

As National DMV Appreciation Month comes to a close, Jackson County, Kansas, Treasurer Linda Gerhardt told us why organ, eye and tissue donation is personal to her.

Jackson County, Kansas, Treasurer Linda Gerhardt

Living donor and Jackson County, Kansas, Treasurer Linda Gerhardt

Mine is the story of a living kidney donor. My niece was diagnosed with diabetes when she was in high school. Her mother was diabetic, so she had inherited it. A few years after my niece got out of high school, she was continually sick and in and out of the hospital. She was on dialysis, and she did the dialysis at home at night and went to work during the day. She was a very hardworking, self-supporting young woman. The day came that she was told she needed a kidney transplant. She was put on the transplant waitlist and was told that could take quite a while.

As time went on, my niece became sicker; she was in and out of the hospital, and we worried she might not receive a kidney in time. One day I was at my mother’s, and she said to me, “If something were to happen to me, could Melody get one of my kidneys?” It suddenly opened my eyes. I told my sister of the conversation, and she said that she herself had asked the doctor about donating, and they had told her no because of a medical condition. I had never even given it a thought as a possibility. I was 39 years old and married with two boys. We were her dad’s sisters, so there was a chance we could match. Her parents were both deceased, and none of her brothers or sisters matched or for health reasons couldn’t donate. I suddenly realized this was something I could do.

I then started the process. I was an 80% match to Melody, and they told me that her dad and I probably would have been a perfect match. I had never been a person to go to the doctor unless I had to (kind of like not wanting to go to the dentist), but at the point of finding out I could help her, it was like God was leading my way. I had to monitor my blood pressure; I would go to the health department so they could record it for me. It would be high, and the nurse would say, “Let’s just visit for a while,” and then it would be fine. I passed all the tests.

We checked in at The University of Kansas Medical Center to do the surgery, and preliminary tests showed my niece had an infection, so it was put off for a month. The next time, we were good to go. My priest at church had announced to the congregation to pray for me and gave me a special blessing. It was all like it was meant to be.

On June 25, 2023, we marked 25 years since the transplant. I received the prettiest bouquet of flowers from her. Being an organ donor was never something I had considered, but knowing I could possibly save her life was such a good feeling. I never saw a bill for anything; it all went through my niece’s insurance.

When I was an organ donor, I did not work in the treasurer’s/driver’s license office. Now, I do, and I am honored to help inform people about and promote organ donation. It is amazing how surrounded we have been by organ donation in the courthouse. We’ve had a coworker’s husband receive a heart transplant and a coworker’s brother receive a kidney/pancreas transplant. And in the Register of Deeds office, a worker’s granddaughter received a lung transplant. On the third floor of the courthouse, a judge received a heart transplant, and a past employee’s husband received a kidney from his daughter. In some of these cases, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t be here today if not for others’ generous donations.

We always participate in whatever we can to promote organ donation at our office. No one knows when they might be the next one to have a loved one suffering from an illness they never expected, whose life depends on your decision or someone else’s. If you have ever been faced with someone you know needing an organ transplant, you would know how important it is to be on the donor registry. Please think about organ donation.

Our thanks to Linda Gerhardt for writing this guest blog post.

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Partner Spotlight — Stefanie Dotson, Maryville Licensing Bureau

In honor of National DMV Appreciation Month, we asked Assistant Manager Stefanie Dotson of the Maryville (Missouri) Licensing Bureau about her important role in the donation process. She also shared her personal ties to organ, eye and tissue donation in this Q&A.

Stefanie Dotson with her nephew, donor hero Aiden Jones

Maryville Licensing Bureau Assistant Manager Stefanie Dotson (left) with her nephew, donor hero Aiden

Q: Tell us a bit about the role the DMV plays in organ, eye and tissue donation.

A: As a DMV worker, any time I issue a permit or driver’s license, we ask if they would like to be an organ, eye and tissue donor. I have found that many people are unaware of the program and have no knowledge of the benefits. At that time, I am able to inform them with the facts and use my personal experiences so they can make the right decision for them.

 

Q: Tell us about your connection to organ, eye and/or tissue donation.

A: I have several connections to the organ, eye and tissue donation program. I have a friend who has received two kidneys, and I’m happy to report she’s doing great. My mother-in-law had three kinds of cancer, and my husband was still able to donate her corneas when she passed. The one most dear to my heart is my organ donor hero nephew. He was 16 years old when tragedy struck, and we found ourselves devastated by the news he would not be going home with us. I looked at my sister and said, “You know what the next question is, right?” She said, “No, what?” I said, “Do you want to donate his organs?” She took a bit to talk it over and decided she would. The honor walk was amazing. My sister has since received letters from some of the recipients, which have been amazing to read.

 

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

A: Our office always tries to find fun ways to open up the conversation about being a donor. We like to participate in any decorating contests that are available, we have different displays with facts about being a donor and we include the people we know are recipients or have become a donor hero in our display. Around the holidays, we decorate a tree with the donation colors and add bracelets for the public.

 

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

A: I feel it is important to inform people of the facts about being a donor. There are lots of misconceptions out there about the details that scare people away. When people are informed with facts, it’s easier for them to make the decision to be an organ donor.

 

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

A: The biggest misconception I hear is: “I was told I can’t donate my organs by this doctor because of this.”

My mother-in-law’s corneas were still used even though she had three different cancers.

 

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

A: I just would like people to realize how life-changing it is to be a recipient of an organ. Your loved one gets to live on and is celebrated by people you never knew existed because they are a part of your loved one, with them every day.

MTN Spotlight – Barb Sheble, Ambassador

August is National Multiethnic Donor Awareness Month, a collaborative initiative to save and improve the quality of life of diverse communities by creating a positive culture for organ, eye and tissue donation.

Midwest Transplant Network will recognize and support National Multiethnic Donor Awareness Month with a series of original content featuring community partners, staff and volunteer Ambassadors who represent diversity and the mission to give hope and share life. We hope you enjoy the perspectives of our friends!

MTN Spotlight…Barb Sheble

In college, Barb Sheble passed out during track practice. A few months later, she got sick and passed out again. She was diagnosed with a congenital heart condition. That was in 1991.

In the mid- ‘90s, doctors said a transplant would be in her future.

“In the ’90s, you didn’t hear as much about organ donation,” said Sheble. “My only knowledge about organ donation was that a friend’s brother signed up to be a donor on his license. He died in a car accident and his organs were donated.”

Sheble said she “lived with the condition for 18 years” before being placed on the transplant waitlist in January 2009. She received a heart the same year.

Sheble, whose heritage is Citizen Potawatomi Nation, is an MTN Ambassador who’s volunteered since 2013. As a kid, she wanted to be a marine biologist; as an adult, she’s a medical lab scientist. The favorite songs on her playlist are “too many to count” because music is her peace and solace; she loves to rest and relax in the mountains, and when it comes to roller coasters or Ferris wheels, it’s “Roller coasters all day!”


What are three ways that being a transplant recipient has changed your life besides giving you another chance?

It has given me friends that I would have never met, and now I couldn’t imagine life without them. It has helped me see life on a broader scale — that the little troubles are just bumps in the road on this journey we call life.

It has taught me that we have to live each day with a purpose and to cherish what we have. Our family, friends and our experiences with those around us are more important than any of the tangible things we think we need.

Did you have any concerns or hesitancy about being a transplant recipient? If so, what were they?
Honestly, not really. I’d been through so much over the previous 18 years that to me, it was just the next thing I needed to do to keep moving forward on my journey.

How does your Native American heritage influence your conversations about organ donation?
I’m not sure I can say it is necessarily due to my heritage, but I just always want to be an advocate. I want people to know that donation works, so I talk about it as much as I can! I am proud to be Native American, and I am proud to be a recipient. My tribal ancestors were very strong-willed people, so I feel my Native American heritage has prepared me to be successful on my transplant journey.

In what ways do you advocate for organ donation?
Any way I can! I donate time when I can. I talk about it any chance I can, and I try every day to show that through transplant, you can live a full life. You can work, travel, exercise, go on hikes…you name it. I want people to see that if there is a will, you can make your ideals for your life happen. It’s all in the attitude!

Tell us about the Transplant Games. What have you experienced?
AMAZING! That one word sums up the games. Do they always run smoothly? No. But do I ever regret going? NEVER. The games and the people I know from them are what I look forward to all year long. You will always find inspiration at the games! From meeting donor families to meeting other recipients, the competition and the sportsmanship is literally the best thing!

Sheble has participated in the Transplant Games of America and World Transplant Games since 2012 in events that include shot put; discus and the ball throw; javelin; Pétanque doubles; volleyball and pickleball doubles. She’s been to Transplant Games of America in Grand Rapids, Michigan; Houston; Cleveland; Salt Lake City and San Diego, and to World Transplant Games in South Africa, Argentina, Spain, United Kingdom and Australia.

Colonial Life sales team donates $1,000 to Midwest Transplant Network

From left to right: Amanda Liezert and Marie Simms, Colonial Life; Jan Finn and Sarah Oland, MTN. Back row: Terry Shambles, MTN; Noah Costlow and Alex Sanz, Colonial Life.

A sales competition among local teams at Colonial Life meant the winners could donate $1,000 to an organization of their choice.

Amanda Liezert, Agency Manager, Colonial Life, is on the Kansas Territory team, and she has connections to Midwest Transplant Network. She previously owned Tierney Office Supplies, and MTN was a client. In 2002, her husband, John Liezert, received a heart transplant at Saint Luke’s Hospital. MTN was part of their journey. He lived until December 2020.

“Organ donation indirectly gave me my family. We were just starting our lives, and one person’s loss gave us a whole life,” said Liezert.

Amanda’s team won the contest and chose Midwest Transplant Network as their beneficiary.

“There were no second thoughts,” said Marie Simms, District General Manager, Colonial Life. “We know Amanda’s story, we love her and her family, and we know the importance of organ donation.”

The team visited MTN’s headquarters to present a $1,000 ceremonial check, received by Jan Finn, RN, MSN, President & Chief Executive Officer; Sarah Oland, LMSW, Chief Stakeholder Engagement Officer; and Terry Shambles, FACHE, FHFMA, Treasurer & Chief Financial Officer.

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MTN Staff Spotlight – Britney Machin

August is National Multiethnic Donor Awareness Month, a collaborative initiative to save and improve the quality of life of diverse communities by creating a positive culture for organ, eye and tissue donation.

Midwest Transplant Network will recognize and support National Multiethnic Donor Awareness Month with a series of original content featuring community partners, staff and volunteer Ambassadors who represent diversity and the mission to give hope and share life. We hope you enjoy the perspectives of our friends!

 


MTN Staff Spotlight…
Britney Machin, Tissue Services Shift Leader

Britney’s professional career in healthcare includes experience as a community liaison in a clinical setting. She earned a Bachelor of Science in community health with a minor in psychology from the University of Central Missouri. She will complete a master’s in business administration with an emphasis in health administration from her alma mater in May 2024. Britney joined Midwest Transplant Network in September 2020 and is coming up on her third MTN anniversary.

If you had to choose between living without air conditioning or social media, which one would you give up?

I would give up social media.

Favorite local restaurants in the metro?

Garozzo’s, Vietnam Café and Q39.

Your most memorable trip experience — good or bad?

I’m from a blended family, and I’m one of four children. When I was 10, we went to California with all of my siblings and family. We visited my maternal grandparents, went to my aunt’s 50th wedding anniversary, went to the beach, the San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld, Disneyland and Magic Mountain. We packed a lot into a week!

You’re talking about your job to a stranger. How do you explain what you do for a living as simply as possible?

Hmmm…I can tell someone I recover skin from donor heroes to help burn victims. Or I recover bone, skin, tissue or muscle from donor heroes to help other people live.

Tell us about your culture and how it influences your conversations about organ donation.

My culture is Chamorro. My mother is from Guam, the largest of the Mariana Islands in the Pacific Ocean. Chamorro culture is having respect for all people, particularly for our elders, as well as our history and language.

The way I was raised influences how I speak about organ, eye and tissue donation. It’s respect for the donor families because you’re working on their behalf.

My brother-in-law is a kidney transplant recipient of 10 years, and I have an uncle who had multiple kidney transplants. He was nearly 60 when he passed.

Growing up, I heard misconceptions about organ, eye and tissue donation, like EMS and doctors won’t try as hard if organ donation is on your driver’s license. It’s totally false.

In my family, there is support for being an organ, eye and tissue donor. And in my family — due to it directly saving and enhancing so many of our loved ones’ lives — they want to make the decision on their own. If I’m asked about organ donation, I do my best to explain the process and address any misconceptions that I can.

Even though my family is open to organ donation, it’s different when it comes to ocular tissues because when a loved one passes, they need to be able to see their way to heaven. There’s a belief about being whole in heaven and in the afterlife, so organ, eye and tissue donation is personal.

In what ways do you advocate for organ donation?

The work is a form of advocacy for donation. When a loved one passes, you want to be respectful of their decision to be an organ, eye and tissue donor.

Give three reasons why someone should consider becoming a registered organ donor:

  • Your legacy lives on through another person, and the impact on another life is honorable.
  • It helps with healing for loved ones because they gave selflessly, and you can be proud of their decision.
  • It’s very important to tell your family of your decision to be an organ donor. It’s an affirmation of your choice, and your family will not have to make that decision for you.

What else would you like to say about organ donation?

To the donor heroes, “Si Yu’os Ma’ase,” which means thank you or “May God’s grace shine upon you” in Chamorro.

Building Pathways to Trust with Black Nurses Association


Midwest Transplant Network (MTN) hosted the Greater Kansas City Black Nurses Association (GKCBNA) during National Multiethnic Donor Awareness Month for a staff lunch and learn called Pathways to Trust.

GKCBNA was founded in 1992 by Deborah Washam, RN, MSN, CCM. The organization works to educate the public about healthcare, promote public health, dispel myths and more.

Washam visited MTN to present disparities in healthcare and organ, eye and tissue donation that impact African American communities. She educated attendees about a range of donation-related myths such as distrust in medical care and fears that organs may not be viable because of co-morbidities, that Black people are “last on the list for organ transplants” and that you have to be wealthy to receive or donate a kidney.

She also informed MTN staff members that 30% of the people waiting for a lifesaving kidney transplant are Black, despite Black people making up only 13% of the U.S. population. Although organ donors and their recipients don’t have to be of the same race, Black people are more likely to have a successful match with another Black person based on certain genetic markers and antibodies.

Washam discussed pathways for building trust and changing viewpoints about donation and transplantation to include community education and outreach, listening, and sharing truths and information. MTN staff members agree that working together with Washam and GKCBNA will help promote stronger healthcare and increase the number of transplants.

Our thanks to Washam and the GKCBNA for this informative and inspiring lunch and learn conversation.

What Black History Month Means to Me

“We must never forget that Black history is American history. The achievements of African Americans have contributed to our nation’s greatness.” — U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke of New York

For me, Black History Month is a time of reflection: an opportunity to embrace my culture and display my pride for the trials, the joy, the pain, the courage and the sacrifice of those who paved the way before me.

Growing up, we learned about the same Black historical figures year after year, and it was somewhat mundane. However, as an adult, I am able to dig deeper and learn all that I can about those who have left their indelible imprint that affects everyone in one way or another.

As an MTN employee, I was afforded the opportunity to shine a spotlight on an individual who contributed to medical advances. I decided to feature Dr. Jane Cooke Wright, who I never knew was such a pioneer in the advancement of chemotherapy. Learning about her expertise and innovations, which have an impact on so many, further solidified for me the continued importance of studying Black history — no, American history. Everyone could better understand the incredible contributions people of color have made to the collective American experience.

The only reason I can stand tall and accomplish my endeavors is because I stand on the backs of those who came before me. I was inspired to find out that my paternal grandfather was a humanitarian and local activist throughout the 1970s. He sought to bring about positive social change in Kansas City, Missouri, which laid a foundation that still benefits people today. That is what Black History Month affords us — the ability to gain knowledge that would otherwise not be known. That is why it should be consistently taught versus distributed in a highlight reel for twenty-eight days.

Being a Black woman is not only a joy and an honor, but it is who I am every single day. I cannot change it and, honestly, I do not have an ounce of desire to do so. There is immense pressure accompanied by underlying distress, violence and vile treatment that is bestowed upon Black people. It is terrifying; however, I wake up every morning grateful for who I am. That is quite literally Black history personified.

All Heart: One Recipient’s Journey Back to Health

Each selfless gift given by an organ, eye and/or tissue donor has a true ripple effect: on patients in need of transplant, on the donor’s family, on those who provide care for the donor, on those who care for the recipient and far beyond.

In honor of American Heart Month, we asked heart recipient and volunteer Ambassador Brian Pitts to share his transplant journey. Brian’s powerful and inspiring story is one of so many that Midwest Transplant Network and our partners are fortunate to know.

Watch now!