Spanier family knows importance of donors

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 4/14/98.

National Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness Week is April 19 to 25, the week set aside to heighten public awareness about the growing need for organ, eye, and tissue donation in the upper Midwest.

Joanne Spanier, Paynesville, knows the importance of being a donor and a recipient.

Besides herself, a sister, Kathy Burg, and a brother, Alvin Meyer, both of Lake Henry, have all had kidney transplants. Joanne and Alvin were fortunate to find compatible family members to donate a kidney but Kathyís came from a donor bank.

ďIf it werenít for donors, I would still be on dialysis,Ē Joanne said. Prior to her transplant, she had to be on dialysis three days a week. It took four hours per treatment.

ďThe doctors gave me three choices, find a donor, be on dialysis for the rest of my life or die,Ē Joanne said. ďMy sister, a nurse, stepped forward and volunteered to be a donor. Not everybody is fortunate to have a relative that can donate an organ. Without a donated kidney, I wouldnít be able to work or lead a normal life,Ē she added. ďI feel so lucky.Ē

Joanne will be on medication for the rest of her life to ensure her body does not reject the kidney. She has maintenance checkups at the University of Minnesota Hospital every four years. Twice a year she has blood work done at the Paynesville Area Hospital. The results of that blood work are sent to the University Hospital. ďIf there were any changes in the blood work, I would need to have further testing done at the University Hospital,Ē Joanne stressed.

Joanne urges people to sign up to be donors. ďNot everybody is a perfect match and the need is great to help others,Ē she said.

Steve Hemmesch, Rogers, Minn., received a kidney transplant from his sister Lois Gertken, Paynesville, four years ago. ďHe is doing great as a result of the transplant,Ē Lois said.

Donation represents a remarkable community gift of life and hope. During 1997, more than 500 men, women and children in the region received lifesaving organs, according to LifeSource, the upper Midwest organ procurement organization. More than 1,000 individuals in the region received the gift of sight, according to the Minnesota Lions Eye Bank and the South Dakota Lions Eye Bank.

Unfortunately, the organ shortage represents a worsening national crisis. More than 55,000 Americans are waiting for organ transplants. About 10 people die each day waiting for lifesaving organs. In Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota, about 1,300 people are waiting for an organ transplant such as a heart, liver, kidney, lung, pancreas, or intestine.

Informing the public about the facts of donation is the first step in increasing the number of donors. A signed donor card or driverís license serve only as indications of oneís wishes. The familyís permission is always obtained for donation. Thatís why it is so important to have a family discussion about donation so the next-of-kin can honor the donors wishes.

Bev Mueller, Assistant Paynesville Area Health Care System Administrator, said it is standard procedure for them to ask all patients who enter the hospital if they are a donor. ďThe question is mandatory by law and it gives the patient something to think about. The need for donors is serious,Ē Mueller said.

The Paynesville Area Health Care System does not take tissue or organs of those wishing to be a donor. Donors are transferred to the St. Cloud Hospital or a metro hospital. ďWe highly encourage people to be donors if possible,Ē Mueller added.

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