Milestone set for organ donations in Midwest

After decades of recruiting people to become organ donors, the organization that manages organ transplants in the upper Midwest established a record-breaking month in July.  LifeSource says it helped secure donations from 28 donors across its network of hospitals in Minnesota, North and South Dakota, and western Wisconsin.

"Organ donation starts with people saying yes to generosity," reflected Katie McKee of LifeSource.  "More people are saying yes."

The donations all come from people and families that have made a commitment to organ donation upon their death.  The new donor milestone therefore begins with a loss of life, often a sudden tragedy.  But the donation of their organs and tissues can transform dozens of lives.

"Twenty-eight organ donors saved 84 lives in July," said McKee, who is the director of hospital partnerships for LifeSource.

The organization says the 118 tissue donors in July will impact roughly 8,850 lives for those people suffering from burns to post-mastectomy reconstructive surgeries.

The increase is donors is tied to the goal of working more closely with hospitals.  LifeSource now has permanent staff at 30 hospitals across its region to help facilitate organ donation.  They are on-site when patients who have committed to become organ donors reach end-of-life moments.

One of the hospitals that has dramatically grown its donors is CentraCare St. Cloud Hospital.  As of July, it has secured 13 organ donors.  In all of 2021 it has seven.

"This is tremendously significant," said Dr. Jacob Lyons, a critical care physician in the hospital’s emergency room.  "We are having more discussions with eligible families."

One of those families belonged to Jeff Dahl.  Dahl, a farmer from near St. Cloud fell on his head in March while helping a friend build a chicken barn.  He never recovered.  His wife Jackie says he had always expressed his wishes to donate his organs if there was a tragedy that he wouldn’t survive.

"We all knew that’s what he wanted to do," said Jackie.  "Helping everybody is just what he did."

When the medical team at St. Cloud Hospital determined Jeff could not be saved, Jackie and his children fulfilled his wishes.  In a sign of respect, the entire CentraCare staff lined the hallways of the hospital as his family wheeled Jeff’s bed into the operating room.  The gesture is called the "Walk of Honor."

"I will forever hold families like the Dahl family and others in the highest regard," said Dr. Lyons.  "These are brave moments at a time of deep tragedy when a family steps forward and says yes, I want my loved one to be an organ donor."

Currently, in Minnesota, more than 3,000 people on the organ transplant waiting list according to LifeSource.  Minnesotans as a whole have been generous at signing their driver’s license to become donors—57%.  But at the end of life, only one percent of people qualify to become a donor.  

Jeff Dahl’s gift transformed many lives.  Doctors transplanted his heart, a lung, his liver and kidneys.

"He is still alive in some ways," said Jackie.  "We just don’t have him here."

People can sign up to become a donor at Lifesource's website.