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April 18, 2024

Mother Remembers Son’s Organ Donation as a “Beautiful Tragedy”

ThedaCare Nurse Asks All People to be the Difference

Nearly eight years ago, Sarah Forster, an operating room nurse at ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah, had just gotten home from working a night shift when she received a call from her son’s school.

“They let me know he was experiencing a medical situation, but didn’t know the extent,” she recalled. “When I got there, it was a whirlwind.” 

Her son, 12-year-old, Nicholas, lived with a brain condition. He was non-verbal and used a wheelchair. Later, it was determined that Nick suffered cardiac arrest at school. School staff members performed high-quality CPR on Nick. It was their quick action that allowed him the opportunity to save lives through organ donation.  

“During those first few days, when they were monitoring Nick’s prognosis, it’s amazing to think that our family and someone else’s family were both praying so hard for our children,” Forster said.

Nick’s family was told that he would not survive. Because of Forster’s background as a nurse, the family asked to be connected with an organ donor network. 

“It was during that time that we found hope,” said Forster. “It is hard to believe that as your child is dying you would find hope. It was hope that our little boy would have the opportunity to save someone.”

Nick passed away on May 21, 2016. He donated his heart, liver, kidneys, and corneas so that others could live full and happy lives. The family learned that through his selfless donation, Nick’s life would continue in five other people.

“I think it is important to know that living with a disability does not automatically rule a person out as a potential organ or tissue donor,” Forster explained.  

Although Nick was considered blind while he was alive, his corneas were able to be donated. Nick’s corneas were given to two men in Mexico, and their vision was restored. 

“All of this was beautiful and tragic,” his mom explained. “Eight years after his death, we never regret sharing his gifts. He was a hero.”

Donate Life Month

April is National Donate Life Month. Each year, hospitals honor donors, as well as their families, and recognize those who have received the gift of hope. The month also promotes awareness of organ, tissue and eye donation and the need for registered donors. 

To promote organ and tissue donation, Forster recently spoke at an event at ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah. She shared Nick’s story in the hope that it inspires others.

“If people are considering organ donation, I would tell them to look inside themselves and sign up to be the difference,” she said.

According to UW Organ and Tissue Donation (UW OTD), one organ donor can save up to eight lives. The organization reports 103,000 patients currently waiting for a life-saving transplant, nearly 1,500 of whom are right here in Wisconsin.

UW OTD shares the following information about organ, tissue and eye donations:

  • Anyone age 15 or older can register as a donor in Wisconsin, regardless health, gender, ethnicity, or racial background.
  • Nearly 3 million Wisconsin residents, almost 60% of those eligible, have said “Yes” to organ, tissue and eye donation by registering as donors on Wisconsin’s Donor Registry.
  • All major religions in the United States support donation and view it as a final act of love and generosity. 

Carrying Out a Person’s Wishes

Andy Sonneborn, a Chaplain with the ThedaCare Pastoral Care Team, recently spoke about helping families have organ and tissue donation conversations.

“We’re often in the rooms with families as they are making decisions,” he said. “We listen and talk. We also try to help them find meaning and what is sacred to them.”

Chaplain Sonneborn said frequently there are two conversations taking place in situations where a person is critically ill.

“We often discuss what the loved one would want and how families can carry out those wishes,” he said. “Many times, the conversations about what a person would want have not occurred, and those times can be more challenging.”

While those conversations can be upsetting and difficult to have, Chaplain Sonneborn recommends having them with family members before a loved one becomes ill.

“When having those discussions, I like to remind people that it is not just the person who receives the organ or tissue who is impacted, it’s their loved ones – friends and families,” he said. “If someone is saved through an organ or tissue donation, there is a ripple effect in the community.”

Sarah Forster says she believes Nick would be proud of his donation. She also hopes by sharing his story, others will act. “I just hope that each person and family will have the conversation to discuss donation,” she said. “You never know the impact you might have on another person and their family.”