Giving the gift of life
During National Donate Life Month, a story of a husband donating a kidney to his wife
By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — April is National Donate Life Month, a campaign that raises awareness about organ donation and encourages Americans to register to be donors.
Laura Ramseier, a nurse at Ministry St. Joseph’s Hospital who works in the medical intensive care unit, will soon be having a very personal donation experience. She has a chronic kidney condition and requires a transplant. Her husband Josh was the first to volunteer as a potential donor.
Laura works in Marshfield, but she and Josh live in Wisconsin Rapids. Josh is an auditor for Sentry Insurance in Plover. Laura found out while she was in college that she has a congenital condition in which her kidneys do not function at the proper level. She has not manifested symptoms, but Laura said that her physician has been proactive in pursuing a transplant before a course of action like dialysis would become necessary.
“My doctor told me from the beginning—when I was first diagnosed—that I would eventually need a transplant,” Laura said. She added that because she was not symptomatic, she was able to delay scheduling the procedure right away, which gave time for family members to get tested and see if they might be a match. Laura has been delaying the transplant while she finishes graduate school, where she is training to become a nurse practitioner.
Laura and Josh met in February of 2012, and he was immediately eager to do anything he could to help.
“He was always really supportive and said from the start that he wanted to be tested to see if he was a match,” Laura said, adding that they waited until after they were married in May of 2014 to go through the process to see if Josh was a potential donor. He is.
“It was something I always wanted to do,” Josh said about being a donor for Laura.
The transplant procedure will be performed in Madison on June 25, and post-procedure care will take place at Marshfield Clinic. The recovery time from the surgery will be minimal for Josh, two to four weeks he said, and longer for Laura as she adjusts to a new kidney. Her recovery time table is closer to six weeks, she said.
Josh said that aside from the obvious anxiety prior to undergoing a major surgery, what he feels most is hopeful.
“That’s the main thing for me is just hope. We want to move on and have children,” Josh said.
“I’m more nervous about it than he is. I guess I feel a little bit guilty taking one of his organs. I mean it’s a huge thing that he’s doing for me. I worry more about him than I worry about myself,” Laura said, becoming emotional as she spoke. Josh quickly took hold of her hand. “I think for me it’s a little bit more emotional,” Laura said.
When asked if the process has brought them closer, Laura joked, “We’ll be really close afterwards.”
Laura and Josh bought a home together in Wisconsin Rapids in December of 2014. Laura will have to wait at least a year after the procedure before she could safely go through a pregnancy, and she and Josh are strongly considering adoption.
St. Joseph’s, a local leader in organ donation
In May, Ministry Saint Joseph’s Hospital of Marshfield will be recognized by UW Organ and Tissue Donation at the Douglas T. Miller Symposium on Organ Donation and Transplantation with the bronze-level Award of Hope for its work in securing organ donations that can help save lives.
At St. Joseph’s the full transplant is not performed, but the organ can be removed at the facility and transported to a location where the transplant is completed. In 2014 St. Joseph’s had seven organ donors who in total donated 29 organs to 23 recipients. Most of the organs are taken in the unfortunate situation of the donor being brain dead or after cardiac death.
“If it wasn’t for our work, my nurses’ work out here, potentially we wouldn’t have those organs to be donated,” said Jean LaMaide, a registered nurse in the medical intensive care unit and liaison of St. Joseph’s Donate Organ and Tissue team. She said that St. Joseph’s primary role in the transplant process is caring for a potential donor and making sure that the donor’s organs stay in the best possible shape prior to donation.
LaMaide added, “Less than 5 percent of people actually die or potentially could die in a setting or situation that allows them to be an organ donor. Very, very, very few people can actually give that gift.”
“Part of our job is recognizing those patients when they come, when we realize that it’s a poor prognosis. They’re not going to be leaving the hospital, and it’s us who intervene, so to speak, and say to the family, ‘Hey, this is an option you have to let your loved one keep living through donating their kidneys, their heart, their lungs,’” said Amanda Gilmeister, a critical care nurse at St. Joseph’s.
Both Gilmeister and LaMaide urge people to go to yesiwillwisconsin.org and register as organ donors. According to figures provided by St. Joseph’s and compiled by the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, the number of people currently on the waiting list for an organ donation totals about 123,000 nationwide.
If a person has not registered as a donor and experiences an accident where he or she cannot voice his or her preference to be a donor and has not preregistered, the family must make that decision. Preregistration, Gilmeister said, can alleviate at least that portion of grief for a family.
LaMaide said the Donate Organ and Tissue team is working towards building a more public profile and boosting awareness and education about organ donation in the community.