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Photo image of Ryan Stoway in a hoodie with a waterfall and wooded scenery in the background.

Donor Hero Said “Yes” to Joining the Registry at the DMV

Photo image of Ryan Stoway in a hoodie with a waterfall and wooded scenery in the background.

Ryan Stoway

In honor of National DMV Appreciation Month, we are honored to share this submitted story about donor hero Ryan Stoway, who believed so much in organ, eye and tissue donation that he enthusiastically said “yes” to joining the registry when he received his permit to drive. Our thanks to Ryan’s mother, Alexis Stoway, for sharing this beautiful story:

“Ryan was a 14-year-old boy with dreams of joining the military or following in his dad’s footsteps as an electrician. He was a born protector, helper and caregiver. He saw what most people didn’t and never hesitated to lend a hand to those who needed him. He had tremendous love for his family, and nothing was more important to him than being with his family and his friends, whom he also thought of as family. He showed such pride to be a part of each and every one of their lives.

He loved being outdoors. Fishing was a passion he shared with his Poppa, uncle and friends. He LOVED playing football! He even liked practicing and off-season training. He enjoyed learning, getting better and stronger each day. Ryan was a 6-foot, 280-pound teddy bear when he wasn’t on the football field. It was often he needed Mom time (yep — he still needed a cuddle). He pulled out the M&M’S® and put on a favorite movie of mine, ‘Top Gun’ or ‘Secretariat,’ and asked me to watch with him.

Ryan always believed in organ donation. He personally saw how organ donation saves and changes lives. When he was 5, his sister received a kidney transplant (she was 3). When he got his permit to drive, he asked the lady taking his picture to redo his permit because it didn’t say he was a donor, and he wanted it on there. When he showed his dad and me, it seemed like he was prouder to be an organ donor than he was that he had passed his test. We were so proud he made that decision all on his own.

When he was finishing his freshman year of high school, he asked me why people had to wait so long for transplants since so many people died every day. I told him not everyone was a donor. He got upset and told me that for his senior project, he was going to tell as many people as possible how organ and tissue donation changes people’s lives. In fact, his exact words were that it ‘changes families’ lives’ and ‘allows people to live a life without jerks making fun of them for being different.’ I sat stunned and cried at my teenage son’s understanding of the difference a selfless choice can make.

It was a little over a month after that conversation that he was in a tragic accident and passed away. They were unable to restart his heart, so his tissues and eyes were donated. He was able to fulfill his wish to be a donor. His sister will take every step with him for the rest of her life, as she was a recipient of one of his tendons, repairing a birth defect in her knee.

We all know Ryan was truly honored to become a donor hero to as many people as he could. I believe he dances in heaven every single time someone gets a part of him, giving them a better quality of life!”

Portrait image of Doris Agwu

Q&A with MTN Advisory Board Member Doris C. Agwu

Portrait image of Doris Agwu

Doris C. Agwu, MPH

There are countless individuals responsible for making MTN’s lifesaving mission possible: our hospital partners; licensing, treasury and Department of Revenue staff members; funeral home professionals and medical examiners; staff members; Board of Directors; volunteer Ambassadors; and beyond. Today, we’re excited to highlight one of our Advisory Board members, Doris C. Agwu, MPH, regarding her work in diversity, equity and inclusion.


Tell us briefly about the work you do as Assistant Dean for the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at UMKC School of Medicine.

In my role with senior leadership, I work with recruitment, retention, advancement, engagement, and communications and serve on our important committees and councils. It is important that diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is in the framework of everything that we do because it matters in everything. So, from creating and providing DEI training to serving on selection and search committees and everything in between, I work with leadership, faculty, staff and students to ensure our strategic plan is implemented. It is important to us that we create an environment where all students can succeed, which means providing equitable resources and a sense of belonging. Additionally, this needs to be done for faculty and staff. And my office helps to do just that.


How did you come to join Midwest Transplant Network’s Board of Directors? What drew you to the organization?

I have been friends with MTN General Counsel Salama Gallimore for years. When I moved to KC a couple of years ago, she was one of the few people I knew in the area. She has always spoken so fondly about the work you all do at Midwest Transplant Network. And with my role at the school of medicine, she felt that I could bring an important perspective to the board. I researched the organization and was truly impressed and humbled by the beautiful work you all do here and incredibly moved by all the lives you’ve positively impacted. I knew this was the type of board I wanted to join.


August is a time when people in the donation and transplantation community raise awareness to save and enhance the lives of people of all races and ethnicities. (This can be recognized as National Multiethnic Donor Awareness Month.) Why is it important to you to celebrate and educate people on the importance of diversity in donation?

I think education on this is important because there is a lot of misinformation out there. Additionally, there are a lot of people who don’t have access to healthcare or have negative experiences regarding healthcare due to marginalization. I think education on the importance of diversity in donation can help shape minds and create a safer environment for learning about donation. In this world, marginalized individuals understandably can have trust issues with a lot of systems, including systems involved in donation and transplantation, so educating people can help lead to enhanced self-advocacy and understanding.


Have you or any of your loved ones been impacted by organ, eye and tissue donation and transplantation? If so, how?

Yes, I have a friend who had been waiting to receive a kidney transplant for years, and when she finally received one, it changed her whole life. She was always a positive and joyful person, but after receiving her kidney, there was a certain type of joy that illuminated from her that probably was rooted in a sense of relief and freedom. Health complications can be very scary for everyone involved, so when a loved one gets exactly what they need to make them healthier, you’re forever grateful.


What would you say to someone who is on the fence about joining the organ, eye and tissue donor registry?

Being a scientist at heart, I don’t believe there is anything I would say, but there are various questions I would ask. I’d ask if they would be willing to share why they are on the fence, what reasons are holding them back, and then I would be able to chat with them effectively and honestly about their concerns.

Sunset photo of the MTN airplane at the KC downtown airport with the skyline behind it.

MTN Aviation

Behind the scenes of organ donation, there are many moving parts that make the gift of life possible. This symphony of motion must come together in near-perfect harmony. One of the often-unseen heroes of the organ donation process within our service area is Midwest Transplant Network’s Aviation team. Ed Coleman, Aviation Manager, manages the transport of lifesaving organs as well as transplant teams from across the country and our service area.

His 38 years of experience in aviation have spanned nearly every realm of the industry. What is different about his service to MTN? It is the organizational mission. In many instances, aviation is not essential to the function of an organization. “In the business realm, if things start to drop, the first thing you do is get rid of the perks,” he said. “This isn’t a perk for us. This is an essential piece of the puzzle to make everyone’s job work.”

Like many MTN staff members, the aviation department operates mostly on an on-call basis. The schedule is demanding, but especially for parents of young children. Corporate Pilot Kelly Timmermann values her work at MTN because it ensures that her “time away from home is worthwhile”. Timmermann, a former executive officer in the A10 Squadron at Whiteman AFB, appreciates the flexibility Coleman and her aviation coworkers provide.

“Ed is usually able to get me all the days off that I need,” Timmermann said. “So, I can feel good when I come to work because things are tidy at home.”

Coleman monitors cases across the MTN service area to give his pilots ample awareness of possible flight calls. “I really appreciate that most of the time, we have a decent idea of [whether] we will be flying or not to kind of mentally prepare,” Timmermann said.

For Timmermann and Coleman, working for MTN is a great way to continue their aviation careers while facilitating the life-saving gift of organ donation. “The mission we have helps people daily,” Timmermann said. “When we go fly, it truly helps somebody. That is very validating for me.”

Now Hiring!

The MTN aviation team is currently hiring both full-time and PRN corporate pilots. If you are a licensed pilot or aviation student looking for mission-driven work for a dynamic and growing organ procurement organization, apply here.

 

Group photo of a family at the Donate Life Legacy Walk in red t-shirts.

2022 Donate Life Legacy Walk Celebrates Gift of Life

On Saturday, June 4, 2022, we celebrated the gift of organ, eye and tissue donation with approximately 1,800 of our community members at the sixth annual Donate Life Legacy Walk. It was an honor to spend a beautiful evening on the lawn of the National WWI Museum and Memorial. We celebrated the evening alongside our incredible donation community including donor families, recipients, living donors and community advocates.

The Tribute Trail lined the north walk of the lawn overlooking Union Station. The Trail was introduced in 2021 and gives families a chance to honor their loved one or personal donor hero while reflecting on the selfless gifts made by all donor heroes.

As the sun descended, participants could take in the view of the Kansas City skyline lit green, thanks to our friends at Union Station and the Downtown Council of Kansas City. The event featured live music from Funk Syndicate and numerous dinner options from our many local food truck partners.

Our community is filled with vibrant individuals with beautiful stories to share. We are continually grateful to be a source of comfort and connection for those who have been touched by the gift of donation and transplantation. Every year we are so humbled by the people we have the honor to work with and serve.

Thank you to this year’s walk participants, vendors, volunteers and staff. We look forward to seeing you all again next year.

Group photo of a family at the Donate Life Legacy Walk wearing yellow t-shirts.

Photo of two little girls wearing Give Hope, Share Life capes.

 

Reflecting on 2022 National Donate Life Month

During National Donate Life Month, MTN staff brought light and awareness to the legacy of donor heroes and the need for organ, eye and tissue donors. In all the month’s festivities, the MTN community honored the strength and hope offered through the donation and transplantation journey.

 

MTN remains thankful for the support of our mission and collaboration in saving and enhancing lives in our service area. We are honored to work with our hospital and community partners, donor families and recipients who work tirelessly to educate the community on the importance of donation. Thank you to everyone who participated in this year’s National Donate Life Month!

Group photo of Human Resources department

MTN Human Resources

Every day, staff members at Midwest Transplant Network perform lifesaving and life-enhancing work. Some serve our mission in a face-to-face capacity while others are more behind the scenes. The Human Resources Department at MTN works hard to hire and retain mission-driven individuals who are dedicated to saving lives with dignity and compassion through organ, eye and tissue donation. We talked with HR Generalist Alex McClanahan about what her job entails and why she loves the culture of MTN. Watch this department highlight then find out how you can join our organization by checking out the available positions on the Careers page on our website.

Graphic design logo image for Songs From the Heart.

The Ultimate Gift of Life

Graphic design image for Songs From the Heart

Every year, MTN and 90.9 FM The Bridge collaborate to give families of donor heroes the opportunity to share their loved ones’ stories and for donation advocates to discuss why organ, eye and tissue donation is important to them.

Everyone knows Feb. 14 as Valentine’s Day, a day to share love and sweet sentiments. But it is also National Donor Day. It is a day to appreciate donors and loved ones who have given the gift of life, have received a donation, are currently waiting or did not receive an organ in time.

It is no coincidence that a day synonymous with love coincides with a day to commemorate those who have given the ultimate gift of love.

Here are a few words about this year’s featured donor heroes, from the people who love them most.


Photo image of Isaiah RossIsaiah “Zay” Ross

“When we received the letters informing us that individuals had received his organs there was a calmness in my spirit,” said Allena Ross, Isaiah’s mother. “It let me know that my son continues to live on and we are intentionally keeping his name alive.”


Photo image of Josh BirrellJosh Birrell

“One of the neatest things is seeing all the people that came forward that we never met whose lives Josh had touched. I don’t know how to explain it except that he was almost like a light for a lot of people, including me, and I know I’m a better person because of him,” said Josh’s dad, Jon Birrell.

Read more about Josh in our story here.


Photo image of Christopher Hutson JrChristopher Hutson Jr

“Chris was nothing but love. He still is a very important part of our life. He just wanted to be with family, to love one another and be loved,” said Christopher Hutson Sr., Christopher’s father.

Read more about Christopher in our story here.


Photo image of Michele BaumgardnerMichele Baumgardner

“You want to do the right thing by your loved one; you want to honor their wishes; you want to do something for them,” said Michele’s daughter, Monica Umlauf. “She was only 55 years old. So, I felt that it was really important to really give her one last thing that she really would have wanted.”


Photo image of Dr. Michael MoncureMichael Moncure, MD, FACS

“If you’ve ever had a loved one who’s undergone an organ transplant, you see someone’s life transformed into something that’s a good quality of life. That is irreplaceable. I’ve seen a lot of organ transplantation and it is a miracle,” said Dr. Michael Moncure, Professor and Vice Chair of Surgery, UMKC; Assistant Director of Surgery, University Health; and Medical Director, MTN.


Photo image of Stephanie MeyerStephanie Meyer

“A good friend from high school had posted that my recipient had polycystic kidney disease and had been added to the [transplant waiting] list. I saw this post on the anniversary of my father’s passing. Every year I try to do something to pay it forward and do something in memory of him, said Stephanie Meyer, a living kidney donor. “So, to me, that was like the perfect God wink, like, this is what you’re supposed to do.”

Listen to interviews from these donor families and donation advocates here.

2021 EOY metrics

2021: Maximizing the Gift of Life

Midwest Transplant Network continued saving and enhancing more lives through organ, eye and tissue donation in 2021. Our staff members and partners worked diligently to enhance donation processes, maximizing the gift of life our donor heroes generously chose to share.

The light of hope shines brighter than ever, thanks to everyone who advocates for and supports donation.

2021 EOY metrics

 

In 2021, we were inspired by glimmers of hope: hope that past challenges create future opportunities; hope that the journey leads us exactly where we need to go. This past year demonstrated the strength of our mission and the extraordinary qualities of those who serve it. Join us in reflecting on the gift of life offered through organ, eye and tissue donation.