The Steamboat Springs Driver’s License Office is regularly ranked as one of the top DMV offices in the country when it comes to choosing to register for posthumous donation of organs, cornea or tissue. However, living donor kidneys or bone marrow are now needed to help Routt County residents.
“Living donation is the opportunity to save a life by donating a kidney or part of your liver, pancreas, or intestine while you are still alive,” Donate Life Colorado says. “Living donation is not part of contracting with the DMV to be an organ, eye and tissue donor.”
Donating living tissue may seem daunting compared to a driver’s license designation or donating blood in a public place, but the process can begin by simply filling out the online questionnaire available at UCHealthLivingDonor.org.Alternatively, for potential bone marrow donation, the Be the Match registry for donors ages 18-40 can be found at BetheMatch.org.
Friends of Clark electrician David Schwanke have organized three Be the Match bone marrow registry events since he was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of leukemia in July. Family friend Brittany Grimes said about 50 locals had had their cheeks swabbed to see if they were a match.
When a potential living donor becomes an organ or tissue match, the vast majority of donation costs are covered by the recipient’s insurance or the donor matching agency.
Earlier this year, Schwank, 40, noticed severe bruising suddenly appearing on his body, so he went to the doctor for a blood test. Schwank became a leukemia specialist inpatient at Denver Presbyterian/St. Lukes Medical Center, where he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a rapidly progressing cancer of the white blood cells and bone marrow.
Schwank has undergone multiple rounds of intravenous chemotherapy, and doctors say he will now need a bone marrow transplant in the coming weeks.
Schwank owns Dome Mountain Electric Company. His wife, Lindy, is the marketing director for Rex’s Restaurants, and the couple has a young son. Friends successfully set up the “David Schwanke Cancer Relief Fund” Go Fund Me page to help cover the family’s childcare, travel and housing expenses related to treatment in Denver.
In September 2022, the United States achieved the milestone of 1 million organ transplants, more than any other country in the world, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. Half of all transplants performed in the United States have been performed in the past 15 years, and today more than 400,000 people have survived a transplant.
“Since only 2% of people die as a result of organ donation being possible, the need is great,” UNOS states.
Friends of Craig resident Christine Trujillo have been promoting the living donor registry all summer. She was at home on October 9 after receiving a kidney transplant. Trujillo said she is getting stronger and less tired every day after receiving a kidney transplant from a deceased donor. She will continue to take anti-rejection medication for the rest of her life.
Steamboat Springs resident Steven Geer, 49, also suffered from kidney failure and needed a kidney transplant. The recommended option is a living donor.
Geer grew up in Walden, has lived in Steamboat since 2008, and has worked in IT at Big Agnes since 2012. He began to fall ill in May 2021, showing symptoms including anemia and respiratory problems, and in December 2021, his kidneys suffered a sudden attack. He was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease Goodpaste syndrome, a rare condition in which the body mistakenly produces antibodies that attack the lungs and kidneys.
After some dialysis treatments in Laramie and Avon, Jill continues to struggle with fatigue and is currently undergoing 12 hours of peritoneal dialysis at home every night.
“While I would be eligible for a deceased transplant, my best chance would come from a living donor,” said Gill, who obtained more information by searching for donors on a Facebook page called “Kidney Quest.”
Although dozens of friends and acquaintances have been tested to see if their kidneys are a match for Ger, no match has been found. After completing the UCHealth online health history survey, potential donors can receive a free physical exam locally or in Denver (if testing is more advanced), Gill said.
In addition to the more common kidney and liver transplants, organs that can be transplanted include the heart, lungs, intestines and pancreas, according to Donate Life America. Tissues that can be transplanted include the eye/cornea, heart valves, bone, skin, veins and arteries, and nerves. Cord blood can also be donated from mothers who give birth, as umbilical cord blood can be used to treat certain types of cancer and blood disorders.