Hazelden Betty Ford employees share gift of life and ask help for coworker

The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation is known throughout the world for helping people in their struggles with addiction, but at its Center City campus, there is a tight group of employees who’ve quietly saved lives from kidney disease.

It starts with Financial Services Manager Tracey Fleming who remembers all too well the suffering of her mother who battled a chronic kidney disease since she was in her twenties.

"She needed help," said Tracey of her mother, Corinne Landro, whose health started to decline when she turned 75.  Corinne’s doctors talked with her about starting dialysis and were not very encouraging about kidney donation as a solution because of her age.

"My family just all gathered around and a couple of us got tested down at Mayo and found out that we were a match," said Tracey.  Already a close family, Tracey and her sister had deep discussions about who would be the donor and who would be the caretaker.  "So, we went back to the doctor and let him know, OK, we’ve got a match here," said Tracey.

The transplant surgery at Mayo Clinic in Rochester in April 2018 was a success and five years later, Corinne is still going strong.  "Gosh, it’s just wonderful to have her back," explained her joyful daughter.

Fast forward to several years later at the same Hazelden Betty Ford campus, and this time another worker was touched by kidney failure.

"I have an autoimmune disease called granulomatosis with polyangiitis, and it attacked my kidneys," said Sherry Stocker, a marketing project manager.  In some patients, the disease attacks their respiratory system, but in Sherry’s case, it started attacking her kidneys beginning in 2007.  She shared with many of her Hazelden Betty Ford co-workers about her condition, but as it progressed she decided to take a big step.

"I actually went to my Facebook page and crafted a message, a plea for a donor," said Stocker.

The post was read by Jennifer Teske, a procurement specialist in the finance department. The post included instructions on getting tested to find out if they could possibly be a kidney donation match.

"I think in it, she put her blood type, and I was like, oh, that happens to be mine.  And I took it as a sign," said Teske.  Knowing that Tracey Fleming had donated a kidney to her mother, she immediately went to her with questions.

"And she asked me what my experience was like, and I went ahead and described it to her," recalled Tracey.  "It’s really not as bad as you would think."

It was then Jennifer contacted the Kidney Transplant Program within Hennepin Healthcare at the Hennepin County Medical Center and started the process. 

"I was a little nervous to tell her," recalled Teske, adding that she didn’t want Sherry to feel obligated to take her kidney.  "I talked it over with my family and I prayed about it and decided that I was going to if Sherry was willing," she said.

Sherry was.  The surgery at the Hennepin Healthcare Kidney Transplant program took place on August 23 and both just celebrated six months of post-operation success.

"Absolutely terrific," Sherry proudly said about how she was feeling.  "The transplant is not a cure, but it is going to give me a few more years to enjoy my grandkids."

But the story of their goodwill is taking another turn as they now have an additional colleague on the same campus who is also in need of a kidney.  All three women are sharing their stories in hopes of encouraging others to step forward to consider becoming a donor to find a match for their co-worker.

"Just go, go through the process. Go talk to somebody who has done it before," pleaded Jennifer Teske who is asking people to contact a transplant program. "They have a whole team of people that you can reach out to and just get some questions answered."

Minnesota has several well-established organ transplant programs.  Hennepin Healthcare just celebrated the 60th anniversary of its kidney transplant program.  Mayo Clinic also has one of the nation’s leading transplant programs in addition to the University of Minnesota’s M Health Fairview.  And LifeSource, headquartered in Minneapolis, is the coordinating agency that oversees organ donation throughout Minnesota, the Dakotas, and Northwestern Wisconsin.

The commitment among many of Hazelden Betty Ford’s employees to support organ donation runs deep in the history of the organization.  Dr. James West, the founding medical director of The Betty Ford Clinic was on the Chicago medical team that performed the world’s first kidney transplant in 1950.  Years later, the support among Hazelden Betty Ford’s employees for organ donation has only grown.  "I think it says a lot of who we are as an organization that people with kind hearts kind of flock here," said Jennifer Teske.

"There are so many people out there now that need a kidney," said Sherry Stocker in her own plea for people to consider becoming a donor. All three women agree that organ donation changes lives. "If it’s on your heart, there’s a reason why," said Teske.