Tag Archive for: transplant

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.”

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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

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.

MTN Tissue Services

Tissue Services - New Staff Members

Some of MTN’s newest Tissue Services staff members with our Wednesday – Friday team

 

Most people are familiar with organ donation, yet many know less about tissue donation and transplantation. The life-enhancing — and sometimes lifesaving — gift of tissue donation can help grateful recipients heal from painful injuries, return to active lifestyles and more. We asked our Tissue Services Manager, Jeff Allison, CTBS, and Director of Tissue Services, Melissa Williams, MSW, CEBT, CTBS, to answer these questions to share the importance of this less commonly known type of donation.

Briefly describe types of donatable tissue and common uses associated with them.

We recover dermis, bone, veins, tendons, heart valves, pericardium and ocular tissue.

  • Dermis is used in skin grafts for burn victims, in dental surgeries, and for breast reconstruction post-mastectomy.
  • Bone can be used in many forms for replacement post-tumor resection, in spinal surgeries and to aid in the healing of complex fractures.
  • Saphenous veins and femoral veins are used for various types of vascular surgeries.
  • Aortoiliac arteries are used to replace infected synthetic grafts or to replace damaged aortoiliac arteries.
  • Tendons are used for various sports medicine and orthopedic surgeries.
  • Heart valves are used to replace infected or malfunctioning valves.
  • Corneas are used to replace damaged or diseased corneas.
  • Pericardium is used for scrotal surgeries.

What impact can a tissue transplant have on an individual? Can tissue transplants be lifesaving?

While tissue transplants are not usually seen as lifesaving, there are two tissues that MTN recovers that could be considered lifesaving: heart valves and aortoiliac arteries. While most tissue transplants are considered life-enhancing, most transplant patients see them as providing a new outlook on life.

What are the most common types of tissues recipients need?

  • Tendons
  • Bone
  • Dermis
  • Corneas
  • Heart valves

What is one misconception about tissue donation that you would like to address?

Many people think that if you are older or have cancer or diabetes, you can’t be a donor. We have a questionnaire that the family answers, and those answers determine if the patient will be or not be a donor. You can donate tissue up to age 100. Even those with cancer and diabetes can donate some tissues.

What is the one thing you’d want to tell someone who knows nothing about your work?

This job is very rewarding. It is very nice to see the letters that donor families and recipients exchange about the donor and the new life the recipient received.

What are some typical degrees and/or career paths staff members pursue before joining the Tissue Services department?

  • Surgical technician
  • Embalmer
  • Paramedic
  • Biology degree

At a high level, describe how tissue donation/transplantation varies from organ donation/transplantation.

Tissue donors have had a medical event that has caused their hearts to stop working; they have been pronounced cardiac deceased by a medical professional. Tissue recovery takes place up to 24 hours after cardiac death, whereas an organ donor must be hospitalized on ventilator and at or near brain death. During an organ recovery, a medical professional (surgeon or a highly trained preservationist) recovers the organs that have to be transplanted as quickly as six hours and as long as 24 hours after recovery. Tissue can be preserved for up to five years before being transplanted. Organ transplants save lives, and tissue transplants typically are life-enhancing.

Why should people say “yes” to tissue donation?

People should say “yes” to tissue donation because there is a great need for all tissue that we can recover, and by becoming a tissue donor, you can help on average 100 people have improved quality of life in your death.