Life expectancy after receiving an organ donation can vary from one person to the next. On average, a cadaver kidney donation will last 15 years, according to the American Kidney Fund.
Doubling that expectancy, this year, Gordon Ovans, 73, of Redgranite recently celebrated 30 years of life after a successful cadaver kidney transplant.
“It’s been a gift,” he said. “How do you put this journey into words?”
Gordon began treatment for renal failure in 1990, including dialysis. After three attempts of receiving a kidney from a live donor, he would get the opportunity for a cadaver kidney donation on May 23, 1991. He traveled more than 90 miles to a Madison hospital for the procedure where he spent the next 18 days. Gordon explained at the time, 18 days was a considered a quick recovery. After, he began the sometimes up and down process towards recovery at his home in Redgranite.
“My doctors stressed two things to me,” he recalled. “They told me to take my medications and get my labs done.”
Gordon’s aftercare would entail monthly visits for lab work. Thankfully, he wouldn’t need to make a monthly trip to Madison. Instead, he could continue his aftercare regimen about ten miles away at ThedaCare Medical Center-Berlin.
The lab check-ins to ThedaCare Medical Center-Berlin became a part of Gordon’s routine and eventually, a trip both Gordon and lab team members would enjoy.
“You know everyone by name and they know you,” he said. “It’s great to catch up and they take care of everything for me including communicating with my doctors in Madison. It’s been very convenient.”
Those who work in the lab are grateful to provide care for patients like Gordon.
“We really develop these personal relationships,” explained Elizabeth Kujawa, Lab Manager at ThedaCare Medical Centers-Berlin and Wild Rose. “They’re more than just a patient who comes in for lab work, they become a part of our family, and we want to help them in any way that we can.”
Consistent lab work is critical for continued success after organ transplant procedures. The results are used to help monitor and evaluate the patient to ensure the transplanted organ is stable, properly functioning and the patient’s body doesn’t reject the new organ.
“Many times our patients have to travel a great distance for the procedure, and then they’ll need routine lab work,” said Kujawa. “By providing these services in rural areas in particular, like Berlin, it prevents them from needing to drive all the way to Madison or Milwaukee. Those longer trips could mean needing to take time off of work or maybe they would need a family member or friend to drive them. By having resources available close to home, they can get labs here, and we share those results with their providers.”
Gordon isn’t the only one grateful to be able to continue his care near his home. He and his late wife, Carolyn, raised two children, who now have their own children. Gordon’s son, Lucas, said he’s thankful his father continues to receive the care he needs without driving far, especially in winter months.
“The care in Berlin has been invaluable,” Lucas said. “From the labs that were routine to the occasional overnight stay when there have been bad or scary moments, I just know he’s been in safe hands. There’s strong communication and the general ethos of care first is there and we’re thankful.”
Gordon and his family say they’ve always celebrated the life he has because of the gracious organ donation.
“I feel incredibly blessed that he was able to see me grow up, graduate from high school and college, get married and watch my family grow,” said his son, Lucas. “This year, just days away from his 30th transplant anniversary, we had a baby girl. So it’s just been an incredible gift for all of us.”
Gordon loves to give back in many ways. When he celebrated his 30th transplant anniversary, to show his gratitude, he brought in treats to share with the team at ThedaCare Medical Center-Berlin.
“We were so surprised, we feel like that’s his celebration,” said Kujawa. “That’s just who he is. He’s so thoughtful and we have so many stories like that from him and others. It’s why we do what we do – to see great patient outcomes like Gordon.”
He also enjoys volunteering his time to serve others in his community.
“I help drive for the ADRC in Wautoma,” he said. “I provide transportation services for the elderly who need a ride to an appointment or hospital visits. I try to stay busy. Last year, I planted 250 trees, and I plan on doing more this year.”
Gordon is looking forward to year 31 as an organ transplant survivor. He said that he knows it takes work on his end, so he does his best to eat right, go for walks and never miss a lab appointment. He adds that he is appreciative for these years of life and plans on paying it forward.
“I’m a future donor and I’m happy to do it because I see how it has blessed me,” said Gordon. “If I can grant that gift to someone, I’d be honored to do so.”
For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health and well-being of the communities it serves in Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 600,000 residents in 17 counties and employs approximately 7,000 health care professionals. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including seven hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their unique best lives. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care.
For more information, visit thedacare.org or follow ThedaCare on social media. Members of the media should call Cassandra Wallace, Public and Media Relations Consultant at 920.442.0328 or the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah switchboard at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.