Feb. 14 may be known to many as the day of love because of Valentine's Day, but to some this day represents the love given for those that donate an organ, eye or tissue. Besides Valentine's Day, Feb. 14 is also National Donor's Day. Organ donor recipients from all over the United States have been given a second chance at life when they receive a life saving organ.
According to the American Transplant Foundation website about 116,000 people in the United States are on the waiting list to receive an organ to save their life. Some of these local recipients are living proof that being a donor does make a difference to both the one donating the organ and the one receiving it.
In need of a donor
Rob Mooney never expected to be looking for a stranger to help him out, but as he faces renal failure and is in need of a kidney, that is what he is looking for.
In 2014, Rob was diagnosed with kidney disease from diabetes and high blood pressure, but at that time he and his wife of 10 years, Crystal, didn't realize the full gravity of the situation.
"They just kept saying kidney function low," Rob said when he was first told he had kidney problems.
Rob said they couldn't get understandable nor straight answers from their first doctor and made the decision to switch doctors. He started seeing Dr. Morgan in River Falls and finally started to understand how serious the situation was.
"That's when we started to realize the magnitude of what it was," Crystal said after speaking with Dr. Morgan about Rob's kidney disease.
Last year, Rob's disease progressed and he is now in stage 4 renal failure. In September 2017 he was put on two different organ transplant lists (one for just a kidney and one for a kidney and pancreas.) The immediate need though is for Rob to get a kidney, Crystal said.
Rob said he realizes he may soon need to go on dialysis and doesn't know how this will impact his family and health. He said the hope is to find a kidney donor before he has to go on dialysis to better his chances of a successful transplant.
"The longer you are on dialysis the more your body breaks down," Rob said. "The less likely to be able to get a transplant."
Rob, who lives outside of Spring Valley, but was born in Prescott and has lived in River Falls, said the average life expectancy of someone on dialysis is five years; the average wait time before receiving a transplant from the organ donor list is also five years. Rob is worried if he has to go on dialysis and wait his turn on the organ transplant list, he may become too sick to receive a kidney. That is part of the reason they have started looking at getting a living donor for Rob.
Crystal said until they started this process they knew very little about living donors, but now realize that a living donor is Rob's best chance at getting a new kidney. The hope, Crystal said, is that they are able to find someone who is a match for Rob, so he will be able to have a transplant before dialysis can deteriorate his health.
Rob is the father of five children (ranging in age from 11 to 22) and has two grandchildren; he has a lot left he wants to be able to do for his family. He said his 15-year-old son just started to learn to drive and he wants to teach him; he wants to help his 11-year-old learn to drive when the time comes too.
"Especially with two little ones in the house, I don't want to check out," Rob said.
Crystal said since they have gotten married they have become the "Brady Bunch" family as their families blended together. For the first time all the children have two parents, a mother and a father, and this isn't something she wants them to go without.
"It's been hard for the kids," Crystal said. "It's a hard reality on them. They lost their grandfather to almost the same thing, worried the same thing will happen to dad that happened to grandpa."
Once Rob starts dialysis he will probably have to go on disability, as he doesn't think he will be able to work. Work has already become more difficult for him.
"I get wiped out just from my work, basically that's all the energy I have," Rob said. "I guess I will have to apply for disability at some point. I don't want to. I'm a worker. I've worked my whole life. I don't want to stop working."
As a lifelong resident of Pierce County, Rob and his family are hoping someone in the community can be an answer to their prayers. He said if anyone is interested in seeing if they are a match as a living donor they can go to www.umnhealthlivingdonor.org and sign up. He said people just need to input his name, Robert Ryan Mooney, and his date of birth, Oct. 3, 1975, to sign up or people can call 612-625-7010.
If someone chooses to be an organ donor, Crystal said the donor doesn't have to pay anything and everything will run through Rob's insurance. Rob also said if the person chooses to remain anonymous he or she can.
Anyone interested in learning more about Rob's story can go to either of their Facebook pages www.facebook.com/Miracle-for-Mooney-1712386328824760/ or www.facebook.com/Mission-for-Mooney-437234993357885/ for up-to-date information.
Mom gives daughter her life twice
Most parents will tell you that they will do anything for their child and no sacrifice is too great. One Hudson mom showed her daughter how true this was when she donated her kidney to her daughter 22 years ago.
Amanda Geving of Hudson had a kidney transplant from her mom Mary Rudolph when she was 16 years old, but her health issues started long before that.
"Long story short, I developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) from E-coli when I was 2-and-a-half from an unknown source," Geving said. "I was hospitalized from April-August 1982 at Mayo Clinic in Rochester and the University of Minnesota."
Growing up, Geving said she didn't feel like the "little girl that was so sick" that some distant relatives and adults thought her to be.
"To me, I was a pretty typical kid; involved in several sports and quite active," said Geving.
She even continued to participate in sports as her transplant date got closer.
"My sport of choice was gymnastics and I was able to compete the season before my transplant, but I was so tired I could barely make it through my floor routine and be able to get off the mat when I was done," Geving said.
After her transplant and recovery, she was able to return to competing in gymnastics and noticed the immediate difference.
"After my eight weeks of recovery, I was back at gymnastics," Geving said. "It was incredible what I was able to do that I wasn't able to do before."
Prior to her transplant, Geving said she remembers being limited to a low protein, low sodium diet and missed eating some of the foods everyone else was eating.
"Everything was very bland and I learned to like Coffee Mate non-dairy creamer on my cereal so I didn't use up my protein right away in the morning," Geving said. "It was tough not being able to eat things like Doritos or pizza or my mom's delicious meals."
One of the highlights after her surgery, Geving said, was being able to eat anything she wanted.
Since her transplant, Geving has had very few issues and the ones she had were early on.
"My health since then [time of kidney transplant] has been great," Geving said. "I had two minor rejection episodes within the first couple of years, but otherwise my kidney is going strong."
Geving said she was fortunate enough to be able to have children and can now enjoy her time with them.
"I have been able to carry and be a mother to my 5-year-old twins," Geving said. "The transplant did start to suffer at the end of my pregnancy and I delivered at 27 weeks to 1-pound babies. My kidney recovered relatively quickly and I am able to keep up with my healthy kids."
At the time of her surgery, Geving said the procedure was a little more invasive than what it is today but that didn't deter her mom from donating.
"Donating an organ, specifically a kidney is so much easier than it was when my mom donated," Geving said. "She has a large scar cutting across the left side of her torso."
Donating an organ is something all people should consider, Geving said. Receiving a transplant gives people the chance to improve their lives. She said it is important that people check they want to be an organ donor on their driver's license and let their family know their wishes.
"Most people know that only one working kidney is needed for the body to function, so most people have one to spare," Geving said. "As far as other vital organs go, no one has a use for them when they die. Consider having the opportunity to save someone's life."
Helping a childhood friend
Being a living donor wasn't something one woman had considered until her childhood friend's husband was in need of a kidney.
DeAnn Faust, a current North Hudson resident, said she had always planned to be an organ donor when she died, but had never considered donating a kidney while she was alive. But when she happened to reconnect with a childhood friend, she decided to become a living donor.
Faust grew up with Elizabeth Wicklem in Roseville, Minn., but they had fallen out of touch through the years. However, when they were both at a rummage sale in Somerset, Faust said she found out the two only lived a few miles apart from each other (Faust was living in Somerset at that time, Elizabeth and her husband in New Richmond) and their friendship resumed.
Elizabeth's husband Brad suffered a serious snowmobile accident which permanently damaged his kidneys. Once discovered that none of Brad's family was a match for a kidney, Faust began the blood testing to see if she would be a match.
"Testing to see if you can donate a kidney begins with a blood test," Faust said. "The test will determine blood type and if it will match the recipient's blood (compatibility). If your blood type is compatible with the recipient, two more blood tests will be done (tissue typing and cross-matching)."
Choosing to be tested and being willing to donate her kidney was something Faust knew she wanted to do for her friend.
"There was never a single doubt in my mind about being tested to donate," Faust said. "Being able to donate was a gift to me, also. Elizabeth and I have been friends since childhood."
Faust said Brad and Elizabeth have a family, so she knew how important the kidney was for Brad to continue to be there for them.
"At the time, Elizabeth and Brad had a young son and daughter," Faust said. "The kidney donation gave Brad the chance to watch his children grow up and his children to have their father. The opportunity to give them a chance at being a family was an absolute no-brainer."
Faust said the pain she had from her surgery was manageable and she was able to return to work six weeks after her surgery. The good feeling she got from helping someone else made everything worth it.
As Faust faces unrelated health issues now, she said she still is happy with her decision to donate a kidney.
"I've had absolutely no complications since my donation," Faust said. "I'm currently fighting breast cancer and other than keeping an eye on my kidney function, all has been well."
Being a living donor, Faust knows, may not be a choice everyone can make but she encourages all to do what they can to save someone else's life.
"Becoming a donor is a personal choice," Faust said. "Understandably, being a living donor is an even bigger personal choice. My experience was extremely positive. Quite simply the best decision I've ever made."
Researching the topic and deciding to be a living donor or organ donor upon death is something Faust thinks everyone should at least learn about.
"There is a ton of information available if you are considering becoming a living donor," Faust said. "I like to say, 'share your spare.' If you're not in a position to be a living donor, then be sure to check the 'donor' box on your driver's license."
Every day, per the Donate Life America website, 22 people in the United States die waiting for an organ transplant, which is about 8,000 people every year. It also says if one person donates organs, corneas and tissue when they die, he or she can save up to eight lives. While the website states 95 percent of Americans are in favor of organ donation, only 54 percent are registered to be an organ donor.
For those interested in donating their organs or becoming a living a donor they can find information at www.donatelife.net.