School community asked for gift of life

by Briana Sutherland

Contributing writer

When Keith Stevens needed a kidney transplant more than 10 years ago, he turned to his sister in California.

This time around the computer programmer for the Elk River Area School District is turning to his place of employment, and his employer is even helping him with the effort to find a donor.

Keith Stevens

A YouTube video of his plight has been been created by Casey Mahon, the school district’s manager of communications, and a plea went out in the school district’s Staff Happenings for staff to consider giving what could be the gift of life.

“It’s a big decision,” Stevens admits. “I don’t ask this lightly.  If it’s something someone is willing to consider to help someone else live a normal life, please consider donation.”

The video highlights not only Stevens’ need, but also the needs of others.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, nationwide there are approximately 89,331 people awaiting kidney transplants with nearly 3,000 new patients being added to the kidney waiting list each month.

The video also features compelling testimony for organ donation from  Jana Hennen-Burr, the assistant superintendent in charge of educational services for the school district. She was on the giving end of kidney transplant operations nine years ago. She donated one of her kidneys to Jan Gallagher, a media specialist at Rogers Elementary School when Hennen-Burr was the principal there.

Hennen-Burr knew of Gallagher’s medical condition and her need for a transplant.  Before Christmas break that school year, Hennen-Burr asked, “What does it take?”

After talking with her family, she came back and told Gallagher, “I’m in if you’re in.”

In the spring Hennen-Burr had a two day physical from head to toe at the Mayo Clinic to assess if she was able to donate to Gallagher.  At the end of the second day, she knew she was a viable candidate.

Surgery took place that fall and Hennen-Burr was out of work for five weeks but she said she did not find the surgery invasive at all.

“It was really easy and there was no sacrifice in my mind,” Hennen-Burr recalled.  “I would do it again in a heartbeat if I could. It was such a cool process.”

The school administrator says she hasn’t missed a beat in life since that time and that her life has been enriched because of the experience.

“Just consider it,” she says. “Think of it as a possibility to help someone else and give another person a chance at a quality of life.”

Her advice to anyone considering donation is to talk to other people who have donated and find out their experience.  Consider the timing in your life, such as a work, school and family.

“It really has been a joyous experience for me,” she said.

Stevens’ first kidney transplant

Stevens’ kidneys first began failing in 1998, and he began a year and a half of dialysis. He sister agreed to go through the donation process to see if she was a match.  She was a match and donated one of her kidneys to her brother on January 2, 2000.  Currently, she’s living a healthy and productive life.

Stevens’ kidneys are struggling again, however, and he is now looking for a second kidney donation.  Due to chronic rejection, his kidney has too much scarring to be fully functional.

Recently Stevens underwent surgery to have an access point put in place for dialysis.  Within the next few months he will begin another round of dialysis depending on his blood levels.

Dialysis is, however, only a temporary, artificial replacement for lost kidney function.

“Some people can be on dialysis for several years,” he said. “With the condition my body is in, dialysis can cause other issues and won’t be able to extend my life.”

Stevens is a husband, father and valued employee to the Elk River School District.  He and his wife, Joan, have three children, Josh, Jake and Elizabeth.

Stevens has lived in the Elk River area for 10 years, while working for the school district for six.  District officials hope he can work many more.

For more information about kidney donation, call the donation line is 612-625-5115 or 800-328-5465.