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.
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.