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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.

 

 

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.

Gary Dixon with Chris Hutson Jr.'s family

Making Sure “Little Chris” Is Never Forgotten

Gary Dixon with Chris Hutson Jr.'s family

Heart recipient and MTN Ambassador Gary Dixon (center) with donor Chris Hutson Jr.’s family

My name is Gary Dixon. I am here today because of the generosity and gift of a stranger who I now know as Chris Hutson Jr.

In 1999, I was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, which is a technical term for an enlarged heart muscle. With meds and doctor visits, life continued until 2009, when I had a defibrillator installed to restart my heart if needed, and life went on.

In January 2017 my condition worsened to the point that a heart transplant was my only option. I never realized how sick I was, but luckily Dr. Kao, my cardiologist, did. On Feb. 1, 2017, I was put on the heart transplant list, and my wait began.

On April 21, 2017, I went for what started as a routine office visit that included an exciting wheelchair ride to the emergency room. I was admitted to Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute and told I would be there until I received a heart transplant or became an organ donor.

My stay, which was about 5 1/2 weeks, had many new experiences — some better than others — and early on, the mantra of “one day closer” started to change my attitude and approach to life, and I still use it today. It also has a special meaning to Tesha, the mother of my donor, “Little Chris.”

On May 28, 2017, I got my gift. I was quickly better, not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally. My family will tell you I was a different person. Little Chris was truly changing and improving my life.

I started writing my donor family right after I left the hospital. I had to thank them for my gift and let them know how it had changed my life, but it was bittersweet because I was celebrating, and they were grieving.

In June 2018, I met my donor family, and since then, I have been blessed to get to know what a caring young man my donor — my constant companion, my buddy, Little Chris — is and the loving, sharing family he comes from. We have continued to get to know each other and share stories and memories, and our families are coming together and supporting each other as our journey through life continues.

I will continue to honor my gift and tell anyone who will listen what a great young man Little Chris is and make sure he is never forgotten.

I would like to share one last thought. Every decision you make is like throwing a stone into the water; it has a ripple effect. On Feb. 1, 2017, Chris Hutson Jr. (“Little Chris”) made a decision and signed his driver’s license to become an organ donor. I am part of Chris Hutson Jr.’s ripple effect.

I appreciate you allowing me to share my story and tell you how organ donation has changed my life.

Our thanks to Gary Dixon for writing this guest blog post.

 

Barb Sheble

“Honoring My Donor the Best I Can”

Barb Sheble

Heart recipient and MTN Ambassador Barb Sheble

After passing out at track practice in January of my freshman year of college, I was sent to two different cardiologists for tests, and since neither could see anything wrong with me, I was cleared to return to practice and was able to finish out the year. About two weeks after the end of the outdoor track season, in mid-May of 1991, I started feeling like I did in January, so my parents took me to the emergency department at a local hospital. While answering the general check-in questions, I passed out, and once back in an exam room, I was found to have a serious heart arrhythmia called ventricular tachycardia (VT). My heart was going way too fast and was in the wrong rhythm.

This hospital did not specialize in these types of cases so, once stabilized, I was transferred to another, more specialized hospital in town, where I was diagnosed with a rare congenital heart condition called arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVD). This condition not only causes VT, but it also causes fatty, fibrous tissue to build up on the right ventricle.

Over the next 18 years, with the help of an amazing cardiologist, I was able to live a really good life overall, despite having to manage my condition. I was able to finish college with two bachelor’s degrees, be successful working full time as a Medical Lab Scientist, travel and enjoy life with my family and friends! Sure, there were procedures that I had to go through from time to time, like getting an implantable defibrillator in 1995 and a few replacements over the years. And there were times spent in the hospital, but I always tried to just do my best to make each day fun regardless of where I was and what I was doing!

On July 2, 2008, things started to take a turn for the worse. I can still remember like it was yesterday exactly where I was when it seems like a switch was flipped. Beginning on that summer day, I was either in the doctor’s office or in the hospital at least once a week, every week until a night in mid-November when everything came to a head. That night I began having VT that my defibrillator could not pace me out of, so it had to shock me instead. In total, I was shocked seven times before we could get to the hospital and get an IV medicine that would control my heart. The next day I had the last of my many ablation procedures that are used to help eliminate the areas that cause the heart to go into the wrong rhythm. That was also the day that we decided it was finally time to be evaluated for a heart transplant. Honestly, it was not a surprise when my doctor brought it up; I had known for years that transplant was going to be my last-ditch treatment option, and after how things had gone since July, I kind of figured we were working our way there.

In early December 2008, I was evaluated for transplant, and it was determined that I was indeed to that point. On Jan. 6, 2009, I was placed on the transplant list. Over the next seven months and 12 days, I continued to work and do my best to enjoy life. At first, I was still full time but over time had to reduce my hours, and by summer I was down to four hours day. By July 2009, I ended up needing to go on IV medication 24 hours a day, but I was lucky enough to be able to do this at home and still go to work. That was a true blessing, as many people need to wait in the hospital for a while before their transplant!

On Aug. 18, 2009, early in the morning, THE CALL finally came. They had a heart for me! This was an especially amazing day to get the greatest gift that anyone can give, because that day is also my mom’s birthday! It is so special to be able to share that day with her each year, and I cannot thank my donor and their family enough.

Recovery had its little hiccups and took a little longer than some. We also learned that my heart was actually much worse than any of us knew. It was the size of an NFL football and was black/dead on the inside.

Since being given this gift, I have tried to live life to its fullest, and I still always try to have fun and find the positive in each day. I continue to work full time in the lab, travel any chance I get, and spend time as much as I can with my family and friends. I get to be a part of big family moments like weddings, graduations and births. I have been able to get back into my throwing events in track and pick up a few other sports, while competing in the both the World Transplant Games and the Transplant Games of America.

I strive to honor my donor the best I can, and there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of them and their family. While I have not been able to meet my donor’s family, and I know nothing about my hero, I know I would not be here today without their generosity! A fellow heart recipient once told me he feels as though every donor family is his donor family, and I couldn’t agree more! I have been fortunate enough to meet many other donor families who amaze me, and I am blessed to call some of them my adopted donor families!

Over the years, things have not always been easy, but that does not mean that my life has not been a blessing! As I look back, I sometimes think, “Yeah, that wasn’t the best day” or, “Well, yeah, I could have done without going through that,” but that doesn’t mean that I would want to change things. This journey has made me who I am. It has brought so many wonderful people into my life whom I honestly can’t imagine my life without! It has taught me that I am strong and that with the right people and support system, I can get through anything!

When I first got sick, I didn’t think I would make it to 40, and here I am rocketing toward 50 in fewer than two years! In May, I will celebrate the fact that it has been 30 years since I nearly died. In August, thanks to God, my donor, their family and my amazing medical team, we will celebrate my 12th heart birthday. I think it is safe to say, life doesn’t get any better than that!

Our thanks to Barb Sheble for writing this guest blog post.

 

2020: A Record-Breaking Year

Midwest Transplant Network’s lifesaving and life-enhancing work continued in 2020, despite the pandemic. We coordinated a record number of organ donations for an increase of 21% from our previous record (set in 2019), recovered tissues from nearly 2,000 donors and enabled nearly 900 organ transplants.

We are incredibly grateful for our donor heroes and their families, our community partners and our staff members for helping us give the gift of life to so many in need during a challenging year.

2020 EOY graphic