A headshot of Taylor Brookins.

MTN Staff Spotlight — 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…

A headshot of Taylor Brookins.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.”

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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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.

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Employee Spotlight: Midge Dempsey

Check out our latest blog post and Employee Spotlight. This time we hear from Midge Dempsey, a Family Services Coordinator based in Wichita, as she talks about her role in the community, multicultural awareness, and her thoughts on organ, eye and tissue donation.

Get to know Midge:

 

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Employee Spotlight: Nichole Asquith

With our virtual Donate Life Legacy Walk just around the corner, we talked to our Community Engagement Coordinator, Nichole Asquith, about her role at Midwest Transplant Network.

Get to know Nichole: