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MTN Recovers Organs From First Donor Patient at Specialized, In-House Unit

Midwest Transplant Network (MTN) recently cared for the first organ donor hero at its newly opened Donor Care and Surgical Recovery Unit (DCU). The DCU — housed within MTN’s Westwood, Kansas, headquarters — features a seven-bed intensive care unit (ICU) as well as operating rooms designed specifically for both organ and tissue recovery. Research Medical Center, part of HCA Midwest Health — Kansas City’s largest healthcare provider — worked closely with MTN to coordinate the transfer with the gracious approval of the donor’s family.

This milestone marked the start of a new process for hospitals within Kansas and western Missouri, MTN’s service area. Prior to the DCU’s opening, MTN staff members collaborated with hospitals to care for all organ donors and coordinated with transplant centers in the recovery of organs at the donor’s hospital. Now, authorized donor hero patients who meet specific clinical criteria may be eligible for transport to MTN’s DCU. Transferring donors to MTN’s DCU will minimize the burden on hospitals by freeing up ICU beds, operating rooms, ventilators and critical care staff to care for other medically complex patients. Studies from other organ procurement organizations (OPOs) about this model have shown more organs are provided for transplantation due to the efficacy of the OPO donor care units.

“I am incredibly proud of all the hard work, research and planning our staff members and board have done over the past five years to create the DCU,” said MTN President & Chief Executive Officer Jan Finn, RN, MSN. “MTN foresaw a need to alleviate some burdens on much-needed hospital resources long before the coronavirus pandemic even hit. Now, we know we can provide highly specialized care from expertly trained staff members to our donor heroes and potentially more organs for those desperately awaiting lifesaving transplants.”

This shift comes at a time when OPOs like MTN nationwide are focusing efforts to improve donation outcomes. MTN is the 12th OPO in the nation with a donor care unit/donor recovery center that is not based in a hospital.

MTN also implemented state-of-the-art systems with the installation of a computerized axial tomography (CAT) scanner and cloud-based technology with the ability to remotely connect with surgeons across the country.

“This moment marks a new chapter for donation and transplantation in our area that would not have been possible without excellent partnership from Research Medical Center,” said Finn. “They were with us every step of the way. Thanks to them, this donor hero’s legacy lives on through four grateful organ recipients and countless more tissue recipients.”

“We are honored to assist Midwest Transplant Network with families experiencing one of the most vulnerable times in anyone’s life,” said Research Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Olevia M. Pitts, MD, SFHM. “Research Medical Center and Midwest Transplant Network have a rich history of working collaboratively for decades. Organ, eye and tissue donations save and heal many lives each year and we recognize, along with Midwest Transplant Network, the tremendous gift of life given by members of our community.”

 

About Midwest Transplant Network

Midwest Transplant Network has been connecting lives through organ donation since 1973. As the federally designated not-for-profit organ procurement organization (OPO) for Kansas and the western two-thirds of Missouri, Midwest Transplant Network provides services including organ procurement; surgical tissue and eye recovery; laboratory testing and 24-hour rapid response for referrals from hospital partners. Midwest Transplant Network ranks in the top 10% in the country among OPOs, which reflects the organization’s quality, professionalism and excellence in partnerships throughout the region. For more information, visit mwtn.org. For more about Midwest Transplant Network’s DCU, visit mwtn.org/dcu.

 

About Research Medical Center 

Research Medical Center—part of HCA Midwest Health, Kansas City’s leading healthcare provider—serves patients by providing quality healthcare services and access to advanced technology. The hospital, located at 2316 East Meyer Boulevard in Kansas City, Missouri, is one of the region’s leading acute care hospitals. The 590-bed facility features a broad range of specialized, state-of-the-art services including a Level I Trauma Center and Level 1 Time Critical Diagnosis services for stroke, brain and spinal cord injury, heart attack and sepsis. Research is home to the region’s first accredited stroke center. Other services include the TIA Clinic, Grossman Burn Center, Liver and Pancreas Institute, Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute, 24-hour Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospitalists and Emergency Room, Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Transplant Institute, fertility specialists, Center for the Relief of Pain, orthopedics, sports medicine and much more. In addition, the 25-acre Research Brookside Campus, located at 6601 Rockhill Road in Kansas City, Mo., includes an outpatient surgery center, many specialty physicians and a comprehensive health and fitness center.  Research Medical Center and the Brookside Campus provide 24-hour access to Emergency Services and have many primary care and walk-in care providers who offer preventive and wellness services. For more information about Research Medical Center, visit researchmedicalcenter.com and researchbrookside.com.

 

About HCA Midwest Health 

As the Kansas City area’s leading healthcare provider, HCA Midwest Health consists of seven hospitals and dozens of outpatient centers, clinics, physician practices, surgery centers and an array of other facilities and services to meet area residents’ healthcare needs. HCA Midwest Health is one of the area’s largest private-sector employers, with more than 10,000 employees, and the largest provider of charity and uncompensated care. Each year, we provide nearly $1 million to local charities. Annually, HCA Midwest Health invests capital to enhance and expand patient services and last year paid more than $115 million in taxes, which may go to the improvement of schools, roads, and infrastructure in the communities we serve. HCA Midwest Health facilities include Belton Regional Medical Center, Centerpoint Medical Center, Lafayette Regional Health Center, Lee’s Summit Medical Center, Menorah Medical Center, Overland Park Regional Medical Center, Research Medical Center and Research Psychiatric Center. Midwest Physicians, which is part of HCA Midwest Health, is a network of experienced, multi-specialty physicians located throughout the Greater Kansas City metropolitan area. Currently Midwest Physicians represents 600+ providers. It includes 80+ specialties, providing care in 150+ locations to serve our community. The physicians, licensed professionals and support staff who comprise the HCA Midwest Health team are dedicated to improving healthcare in the Greater Kansas City and outlying areas to create healthier communities that lead to healthier tomorrows. For more information, visit hcamidwest.com.

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.

 

 

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.