UAGA was the first legislative proposal addressing organ donation, and it established the Uniform Organ Donor Card as a legal document in all 50 states. The act also banned the sale of organs and tissues.
Midwest Transplant Network has been saving and
enhancing lives for half a century.
Here are some key milestones from our first 50 years.
Since Midwest Organ Bank (now Midwest Transplant Network) was incorporated in 1973, our team has had the privilege of transforming lives: the lives of transplant recipients and their loved ones as well as donor families. Now, 50 years later, we’re reflecting on half a century of transformations. Technology has evolved, and our team has grown significantly — making it possible to save and enhance more lives than ever before.
None of the inspiring stories you see below would be possible without donor heroes, whose generosity enabled others to lead healthier lives. These heroes or their families lovingly said “yes” to giving the gift of life to those in need. These “yeses,” which may seem simple, have touched countless individuals, families and friend groups for half a century.
Saving and enhancing lives through donation is an incredible honor for our staff members, yet it’s an honor that would not be possible without strong support from our many partners. We thank our hospital partners; area transplant centers; licensing, Treasury and Department of Revenue partners; funeral home professionals, coroners and medical examiners; volunteer Ambassadors; Board of Directors; and everyone else who plays a role in the donation and transplantation process.
When thinking about our 50th year, we look forward to celebrating with the many individuals and teams who make our important work possible. We also reflect on those whose lives have ended, yet whose legacies live on through their recipients.
If you haven’t already, please join the organ, eye and tissue donor registry and encourage your friends and family members to do the same. You could save up to eight lives through organ donation and enhance up to 100 more through tissue donation — forever impacting your legacy and those of your recipients.
Jan Finn, RN, MSN
President & Chief Executive Officer
1960s and 1970s
C.Y. Thomas, MD, performed the first kidney transplant in Kansas or Missouri at Saint Luke’s Health System in Kansas City, Missouri. Within weeks, teams at The University of Kansas Health System and Research Medical Center also performed transplants.
In August 1968, a committee at Harvard Medical School published a landmark document titled “A Definition of Irreversible Coma.” The new definition of death, brain death, focused on loss of neurological function. The document provided a foundation for the eventual adoption of legislation that established brain death as legal death in all 50 states.
A meeting of chiefs of nephrology and transplant surgeons from four Kansas City hospitals resulted in an agreement to establish centralized organ procurement. The following individuals were involved: Jared Grantham, MD; C.Y. Thomas, MD; Robert Williams, MD; Frederick Whittier Jr, MD; Thomas Crouch, MD; Richard Muth, MD; and Donald Cross, MD, who later became Laboratory Director after the formation of Midwest Organ Bank (MWOB).
The origin of organ retrieval in the Kansas City area began in 1969 when Richard Muth, MD, received a grant established by the Missouri Public Health Department to create a tissue typing laboratory. MWOB acquired the laboratory through negotiations with General Hospital, paving the way for performing histocompatibility testing (HLA) to match donor organs to local recipients. Read more
The ESRD Act passed to pay for dialysis treatments and paved the way for Medicare coverage of renal dialysis and kidney transplantation. It remains the only federal program to pay for a specific disease.
Gilbert Ross Jr., MD, performed the transplant at University Hospital.
Larry Kist was appointed MWOB’s first Executive Director. Kist helped develop national policy and practice in this role until 1997.
The first successful bone marrow transplant (BMT) from an unrelated donor was performed. Today, both Children’s Mercy Kansas City and The University of Kansas Health System treat patients with BMT for a variety of hematological disorders; MTN’s Laboratory plays an integral role in supporting this type of transplantation.
MWOB acquired the first perfusion machine through a cooperative community effort between the National Kidney Foundation, Saint Luke’s Hospital, Research Medical Center and the VA Kansas City Healthcare System. This allowed kidney pumping, which enabled MWOB to double the number of kidney recoveries the organization completed in a year from 13 to 26.
MWOB created its Aviation Department at the urging of the Federal Aviation Administration to ensure the safety of staff members and transplantable organs. The department allowed MWOB to transport teams and organs across its service area.
Organized kidney retrieval on a regional basis was initiated due to the use of new perfusion technology and the need for transplantation.
A grant from the CDC allowed an assessment of potential organ donors and spearheaded a national effort for death record review and the first hospital development program to increase donation awareness. The changes in federal oversight, led by MWOB, provided resources for many OPOs to begin retrieval services.
The organization has since expanded its transplant services and now offers pancreas and kidney/pancreas transplants as well.
MWOB led with several firsts, including the Midwest Organ Sharing System, a computer-operated regional sharing system for the north-central U.S. that was utilized until the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) implemented the national system in 1987.
Thomas Helling, MD, performed the first local liver transplant at Saint Luke’s Hospital.
President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation declaring National Organ Donor Awareness Week.
The advent of improved immunotherapy through drugs such as cyclosporine provided greater outcomes for transplant recipients.
Opening MWOB’s Wichita, Kansas, location served the need for regional organ procurement, hospital development and HLA lab operation services in the western side of MWOB’s donor service area.
NOTA was passed, establishing the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) to provide a central registry linking donors and potential recipients. It also established financial support for organ procurement organizations and prohibited the buying and selling of organs.
AOPO was formed, with Keith Johnson, MD, from Nashville, Tennessee, serving as its first president.
President Ronald Reagan signed legislation for ACOT to advise the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services on how to improve the U.S. organ donation and transplantation system.
Bill Reed, MD, performed the transplant.
Thomas Estep, MD, performed the first heart transplant at St. Francis Regional Medical Center.
This act mandated that all organ procurement organizations and transplant centers be members of the OPTN. It also forced the merger of many of the nation’s OPOs; 30% of OPOs closed as specific OPO service areas were defined.
The law requires hospitals to establish protocols for offering families of deceased patients the option of organ donation.
Rob Linderer, RN, BSN, was hired to develop and manage the department. Previously, MWOB relied on hospital staff to manage the organ donation process. This was the beginning of an era that allowed MWOB to recover more organs for transplantation.
At the request of local hospitals, MWOB expanded its services to include recovery bone, skin, vascular grafts and other tissues for transplantation.
Jack Curtis, MD, performed the transplant at University Hospital.
MWOB opened its Joplin, Missouri, satellite office and hired Jan Finn, RN, MSN, as its first Organ Procurement and Hospital Services Coordinator.
Thanks to the generosity of donor families, MWOB exceeded organ recovery from 100 donors in one year for the first time.
Jameson Forster, MD, performed the transplant.
MWOB purchased the Westwood, Kansas, building that still serves as the organization’s headquarters.
MWOB HLA Laboratory Director Christopher Bryan, PhD, and kidney transplant surgeon Paul Nelson, MD, discovered the ability to transplant kidneys across blood groups. They learned that the A2 blood type can successfully provide kidneys to ABO-O and ABO-B blood group recipients.
MWOB launched its volunteer Ambassador program, allowing donor families and transplant recipients to advocate for the organization’s mission. Read more
MWOB hired its first staff member in Columbia, Missouri: Organ Procurement and Hospital Services Coordinator Pam Struessel.
At Executive Director Larry Kist’s direction, Organ Procurement and Hospital Services Coordinator Jan Finn, RN, MSN, and Manager of Organ Procurement Tham Hoffman, RN, developed “Project Success” to strategically increase organ donation and transplantation by standardizing practices and procedures in organ referral management and hospital development across the service area.
Rob Linderer, RN, was appointed Executive Director and, later, President and Chief Executive Officer.
MWOB began recovery of corneas following the acquisition of the Kansas City Eye Bank.
MWOB achieved a new record of recovering organs from 125 donors during a calendar year.
MWOB opened its first Communications Center, bringing the critical function of referral management, donor family approach conversations and donation coordination in-house.
In order to better describe its services, Midwest Organ Bank changed its name to Midwest Transplant Network.
Manager of Quality Lauralee Brown, RN, and Organ Procurement and Hospital Services Coordinator Jan Finn, RN, MSN, developed an annual program for all MTN staff members to ensure competencies, professional development and annual training requirements.
As a way to celebrate Thanksgiving, former Executive Director Larry Kist asked a staff member to cook a “turducken,” which continues today as an annual tradition of MTN staff members gathering to eat and give thanks.
To facilitate the gift of donation, the Federal Aviation Administration allowed MTN’s airplane to be the first to fly an organ for transplantation in U.S. airspace post-9/11 terrorist attacks.
MTN, in partnership with several local hospitals and transplant centers, joined the official launch of the National Organ Donation Breakthrough Collaborative at the request of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This collaborative revolutionized the donation and transplantation community by sharing known best practices between OPOs and transplant centers.
The Laboratory exceeded 10,000 in-house candidate and donor tests in one year for the first time to provide compatibilty testing for transplant recipients.
MTN opened its Tissue Recovery Suite, enabling the mobilization of donors to a central location for tissue recovery.
The State of Missouri established an organ and tissue donor registry as a voluntary, confidential registry for donors.
MTN exceeded 200 organ donors in a calendar year for the first time.
2010s and 2020s
MTN leaders engaged in the philosphy of Quint Studer, which enhances the healthcare flywheel of purpose, worthwhile work and making a meaningful difference.
MTN staff members developed REAL (respect, excellence, accountability, leadership) standards to strengthen behavioral expectations and values. Read more
Kansas established a statewide donor registry to allow First Person Authorization for organ, eye and tissue donation.
In order to better serve the needs of organ procurement, MTN’s Laboratory brought infectious disease testing for organ donors in-house.
Jan Finn, RN, MSN, was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer.
MTN’s laboratory surpassed 30,000 tests in one year for the first time.
A. Michael Borkon, MD, a pioneer in cardiovascular surgery and heart transplantation, spearheaded — along with Gary Duncan, President Emeritus of Freeman Health System — the concept of MTN opening a facility to serve the needs of the organ donation community.
Stormont Vail Health opened a memorial wall in honor of the organ donor heroes the organization has served. Other area hospitals have created similar tributes, including Freeman Health System, Mosaic Life Care and Saint Luke’s Health System.
Amid the initial surge of the COVID-19 pandemic, MTN recovered organs from 341 donors, providing 898 lifesaving transplants.
A record 371 organ donors provided new hope to 981 organ transplant recipients in 2021.
MTN led the country in demonstrating that coronavirus-positive individuals could become organ donors, recovering 64 organs from 51 patients with COVID-19.
The Association of Organ Procurement Organizations named Jan Finn, RN, MSN, as its President.
Two decades after MTN’s DCD program started in the early 2000s, DCD patients accounted for 35% of MTN’s organ donor heroes. MTN is a national leader in DCD authorization rate, regularly exceeding 80%.
With the guidance of MTN’s Governing Board, the state-of-the-art DCU opened to improve the efficiency of organ donor management and increase the number of lives saved with transplantation. The DCU includes a seven-bed ICU, CT scanner, four-room operating suite and a simulation/training center. Read more
The U.S. recorded the 1 millionth transplant nationwide on Sept. 9. Read more
At the start of its 50th anniversary celebrations, MTN dedicated Gretchen’s Garden for Heroes, a donor memorial garden open to the public 24/7. The garden is named in honor of MTN’s cherished friend Gretchen Gosch, LMSW, who served donor families as a Family Services Coordinator before she passed away.