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Security Health Plan supports promotion of organ and tissue donation

Every ten minutes another person is added to the waiting list for a donated organ. Each day 22 people die because the organ they need is not donated in time. One organ, eye and tissue donor can save and heal more than 75 lives. There are more than 116,000 people nationally waiting for organs with 2,100 of them in Wisconsin.

Those stats, from Donate Life America, are a compelling argument for organ and tissue donation. In honor of National Donate Life Month, which is April of each year, Security Health Plan of Wisconsin, Inc., and Marshfield Clinic Health System are donating $1,000 to the Central Wisconsin Gift of Life organization.

Jill Dillon O.D. and Sara SolinskySecurity Health Plan Consumer Sales Executive Sara Solinsky and Marshfield Clinic Health System Optometrist Dr. Jill Dillon, O.D., founded the Central Wisconsin Gift of Life organization after Solinsky received one of Dr. Dillon’s kidneys. The Central Wisconsin Gift of Life is a group of organ and tissue recipients, living organ donors, organ and tissue donor families and others who are passionate about the life-saving gift of organ and tissue donation.

“We exist to promote organ and tissue donation awareness in the central Wisconsin area,” Dr. Dillon said. “We also organize and fundraise to support the University of Wisconsin Organ and Tissue Donation and the Restoring Hope Transplant House in Middleton.”

The story behind the formation of this organization begins with the story of how Solinsky and Dr. Dillon met. Their story is even more persuasive than the statistics in encouraging people to become organ donors. .

At age 20 Solinsky learned she had just one kidney. Over the next 10 years she was monitored closely by her medical team, but by age 30 her kidney function began to decline and she was facing dialysis.

“I was scared,” Solinsky admitted. “I was reading stories online of how long a dialysis session took and the symptoms people had after the treatment. I wanted to delay that as long as possible. My doctor convinced me that dialysis would make me stronger and healthier when a transplant became available.”

That was when her medical team encouraged her to look for a donor on social media. They told her about the lack of available donated organs and said sometimes a donor can be found outside of the registry. Solinsky turned to Facebook.

That is when her high school classmate Laura Grassl saw the post about Solinsky’s need for a new kidney. It just so happened Grassl worked with someone already willing to donate a kidney.

“I was scrolling through Facebook when I saw Sara’s health update about being on dialysis and her family being tested to find her a kidney,” Grassl said. “It was tear-jerking to read. Here was a friend my age that was facing dialysis, numerous medical appointments and the stress and worry of knowing she needed an organ transplant to better her life. My problems didn’t seem so bad once I knew what she was going through.”

Grassl worked with Dr. Dillon, who had already signed up to donate a kidney to one of her patients. That patient, however, received a different donated kidney and no longer needed one from Dr. Dillon. But she was still determined to make a donation and enrich the life of someone and had told Grassl of her intention. When Grassl saw Solinsky’s Facebook post she knew she needed to connect the two women.

“It was a no-brainer,” Grassl said. “When she told me she was going to go ahead with being an organ donor even though it didn’t work out with the previous recipient, I knew I had to say something.”

Solinsky and Dr. Dillon connected via Facebook with Grassl’s assistance. From there, tests were run to see if the two were a compatible match. When Dr. Dillon received the results just a few days later, she called Solinsky.

“I was excited to call her with the news of our match, but somewhat nervous to tell her,” Dr. Dillon said. “I hadn’t even talked with her in person yet. Her poor husband thought I was a telemarketer calling for her, so at first he didn’t put her on the phone. But once he did, we had a great talk. I remember it being fairly short as we weren’t sure of the next step at that point.”

Solinsky added, “I had just gotten home from work and my husband Craig handed me the phone as I was getting out of the car and said it was Jill. I was nervous that it was going to be bad news. We weren’t supposed to get our test results for another week or two. I’m certain that I was crying.”

Jill and Sara3The transplant occurred on July 21, 2011. Since then the connection between Solinsky and Dr. Dillon has swelled beyond that of a recipient-donor relationship. They are not only friends, but have a sister-like relationship, even spending holidays with the other’s family.

“I have gained a lifelong friendship and a connection that no one can really understand unless you are in this situation,” Solinsky said. “Through all of this I have met some pretty awesome people that I wouldn’t have otherwise met.”

Shortly after the surgery Dr. Dillon said she had feelings of disbelief when she looked at Solinksy. She explained, “Knowing my kidney was inside of her and working just like it did in me. But now I look at Sara and just see a great friend. Believe it or not, there are many times when I never even think about the donation anymore. I have heard countless donation stories since Sara and I had surgery and they never cease to amaze me. Ours is just one more of those stories.”

Dr. Dillon said the whole experience is, “Addition by subtraction.”

“A small piece of me, my kidney, was subtracted from my body, but the additions have been piled on over and over again,” Dr. Dillon said.

“I could have never dreamt all I have gained from this. I gained Sara and her entire family for starters. I gained a whole new appreciation for the world of organ and tissue donation. I have met so many amazing people whose lives have been touched through donation – some on the joyous side by being a recipient or recipient’s family; some on the tragic side of the family and friends of deceased donors. And I can’t forget the many sacrificial living donors who I have been humbled to meet.” ~Dr. Jill Dillon, O.D.

This is why the duo started the Central Wisconsin Gift of Life five years ago.

“After Sara and I had surgery we recognized there are still so many others waiting for their life-saving organ or tissue. We did a couple of events with another organ donation awareness group and realized the need existed in the central Wisconsin area,” Dr. Dillon said. “We sat down over lunch one day with Sara’s cousin Kathy and discussed getting a group started. With the help of the University of Wisconsin Organ and Tissue Donation we launched Central Wisconsin Gift of Life.”

The organization will hold its annual scavenger hunt on Saturday, May 4. The scavenger hunt is from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and starts and ends at The Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids. All proceeds from the event go to the UW Organ and Tissue Donor Education Fund and the Restoring Hope Transplant House in Middleton. This house was purchased and restored so family members of donors have a place to stay near the medical facility while the donor is there for treatment. To register for the scavenger hunt print and return the registration form from the organization’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/CentralWiGiftofLife/.

Central Wisconsin Gift of Life“Although we do fundraisers for the ever-needed donations that keep the world of organ and tissue donation going, we truly exist to create awareness,” Dr. Dillon said. “The need for organ and tissue donors is so great. The number of recipients waiting is truly heart-breaking. We could raise millions of dollars, but that still wouldn’t save the people waiting on the lists. We need donors, both living and deceased, if we are going to close the gap between the number of donors and the number of people waiting. I hope that our organization can do our part to ensure that everyone knows about how they can help save someone’s life.

To learn more about becoming an organ donor, or to register as a donor, visit www.donatelife.net.

Solinsky said she knows the idea of becoming a donor is scary, but added, “you could be the answer to someone’s prayers. If I wouldn’t have met Jill when I did I would be dependent on a machine and hoses three times a week for four hours at a time. That isn’t the ideal life to raise a family.”

To get involved, make a donation or learn more about Central Wisconsin Gift of Life, visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/CentralWiGiftofLife/.