Despite recent denial, Hayden mom advocates for organ donations
After almost a year of communications, medical tests and travel to California for in-person tests and interviews, Hayden mom Jacci Jo Walton’s offer to be a living kidney donor to a family friend was denied.
But, if another fitting opportunity arose, Walton said she would do it all over again.
Walton received a phone call in mid-August from the transplant team at Loma Linda University Health in southern California several weeks after her trip to the hospital for three days of medical testing as well as interviews with a transplant team doctor, case manager, social worker and donor advocate.
“They said I live too far away and have too many kids,” said Walton, who is a mother to six children in her blended family north of Hayden.
Briana Pastorino, public relations director at Loma Linda University Health, said the hospital’s Living Donor Program has a stringent process to vet each potential donor carefully, and evaluate whether each candidate meets specific criteria.
“Unfortunately, not everyone who wishes to be a living donor is able to do so, but that does not negate their selflessness to provide the gift of life to another individual,” Pastorino said.
Despite not being able to donate a kidney to 14-year-old, Emri Sjostrom, whose father, Daniel, grew up in Hayden, Walton said the experience had several benefits, including serving as a real-life lesson for her children about giving with no strings attached.
“It just really opened their eyes that you can give something to someone without even knowing them or expecting anything in return. There is just a huge benefit to giving,” Walton said.
Emri’s mom Soha Sjostrom said the fact that people rallied behind Walton’s potential donation was uplifting and therapeutic for her teenager. He is now back on the organ transplant list and continues to receive dialysis treatments for about 10 hours overnight at home each day.
Walton also learned more about her own health.
“I was definitely inspired to invest a lot more time and education into learning about nutrition and longevity of life and how to take care of your mind and body,” Walton said.
She also enjoyed getting to know Emri Sjostrom and his family during her visit to California since their two extended families from Hayden have many interconnections. Walton and Emri Sjostrom sat outside the southern California hospital and talked about common interests such as listening to Beach Boys music.
“Growing closer to the potential recipient family, that was a bond that I don’t think will ever be broken,” Walton said.
Statistics provided by Anne Paschke, media relations specialist for the nonprofit United Network for Organ Sharing, show that in 2021, 5,971 living kidney transplants occurred across the U.S. and 569 liver transplants.
Living organ transplants also take place in Colorado, where in 2021, 124 kidneys and 22 livers were transplanted, including some at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora.
Paschke said the current number of people in the U.S. waiting for a kidney donation is almost 90,000, noting that living kidney donations can be preferrable for better recipient patient outcomes. Interested individuals can contact UNOS to learn more via the website https://unos.org/.
According to OrganDonor.gov, 17 people in the U.S. die each day waiting for an organ transplant.
Walton said even though her denial was “heartbreaking,” she does not want to dissuade people from investigating becoming a living donor but encourages potential donors to ask many questions up front.
“So much that goes into this process is not just common knowledge. It requires a lot more education,” she said. “Even though it didn’t turn out how I wanted, there is still purpose behind it.”
Since Walton’s mom set up a GoFundMe page to assist with her daughter’s travel and medical bills, Walton spent time recently returning unused donations. Of the more than $6,500 in donations, about $4,700 has been returned or requested to be redirected to the recipient family.
Hayden has a past successful story about a living kidney donation. In spring 2013, Hayden pastor Doug Zirkle from Mission of Grace Baptist Church underwent a successful kidney transplant surgery at University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. The kidney was donated by church member Mike Markle.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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