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November 29, 2011 9:02 am

EDITORIAL: Donating life

Written by Tessa Schweigert

Local families’ stories highlight importance of organ donation

Stories of organ donation often are bittersweet — one family loses a loved one while another rejoices in restored health for the organ recipient. For some families, circumstances are much more bitter, as a loved one dies waiting for a transplant.

Over the past year, the Tribune featured four local families’ experiences with organ donation:

• Toddler Mazie Dylan Bennion was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer just days after her second birthday. After months of medical treatments and waiting, a donor came through and little Mazie received a liver transplant in March.

“Mazie’s liver function is still excellent,” wrote her grandmother, Tina Fagan of Powell, in a post earlier this month on the family’s website www.miracle4mazie.org.

After receiving an outpouring of community support for Mazie, the family continues to raise funds for other local kids facing medical struggles.

• While waiting for a double lung transplant, Summer Bell died last month at age 31. Formerly of Cowley, Bell battled pulmonary fibrosis since 2006. To honor her memory and her commitment to “paying it forward,” Bell’s family and friends in Powell are raising money for Wyoming Cares/Wyoming Shares, an organization that promotes organ and tissue donations.

Her mother, Laura Kurtz of Powell, made a Christmas quilt for a drawing, which takes place today (Tuesday) at The Bookstore, 109 N. Bent St.

• Patricia Thomas of Cody started 2011 by riding the Donate Life float in the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day. It was one of the many ways Thomas has advocated for organ and tissue donation after her daughter, Kathleen, died in 2008. In her death, Kathleen gave life in the form of her heart valves, skin grafts and corneas — helping more than 20 people so far.

Keeping her daughter’s memory and legacy alive, Thomas continues to promote organ donation in the Big Horn Basin.

• With her kidney function declining, Kelly Eckerdt of Powell likely will need a transplant in early 2012. Eckerdt was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease, a genetic disorder, about five years ago. She is on the waiting list, and several potential donors have started the process to give her a kidney.

Locally, friends and family are organizing “Kidney for Kelly” fundraisers to help with medical expenses and other costs. Eckerdt hopes she can receive a transplant before beginning dialysis — something that will soon be necessary without a new kidney.

While each very different — two tragic, one successful, one waiting — these four stories all emphasize the importance of organ donation.

With more than 59 percent of individuals with driver’s licenses joining the donor registry, Wyoming ranks among the top in the nation. Still, more can be done to encourage donor registry in the Cowboy State and beyond.

“The simple act of checking ‘yes’ when asked about organ and tissue donation on your driver’s license form can have a dramatic impact on the lives of many others,” said Cherame Serrano, Wyoming Cares/Wyoming Shares program coordinator with the Wyoming Department of Health, in a recent news release. “One donor can help save up to eight lives through organ donation and help heal more than 100 people through tissue donation.”

To become an organ donor, simply sign up at the Wyoming Department of Transportation when you renew your driver’s license. Or register online at www.donatelifewyoming.org.

If you’re not on Wyoming’s donor registry yet, we encourage you to consider donating life.

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