Donating the Gift of Life
Becoming a living organ donor fulfills long-held dream for FVTC Registrar
Shannon Gerke Corrigan prefers to avoid the spotlight, shining it toward Fox Valley Technical College students instead. As the Registrar and Co-Title IX Coordinator for FVTC, her role is to support students in their journey. She and her team work to ensure the accuracy of student records and that the college is providing gender equity.
However, she also happens to be a living organ donor, so she is now stepping up to share her story and encourage others to consider organ donation. In July 2021, Shannon donated one of her kidneys to a person she has never met. (She is one of at least two FVTC employees who are living donors.)
It started 20+ years ago at the start of her career, when Shannon was working at another college. One of her colleagues was diagnosed with a hereditary chronic kidney disorder and learned that she would eventually need a transplant. A few years later, another colleague donated his kidney to her. Shannon recalls having a surprising sense of guilt for not donating her kidney: “I knew she didn’t expect it of me, but I started to wrestle with it and ask myself ‘why am I feeling this way?’” she explains.
Over the years, Shannon kept returning to the thought of living organ donation, and in 2019, she made the decision to do it. “It became really important to me. I felt like my life wouldn’t be complete without doing this.”
She chose the UW Health Transplant Center in Madison, a national leader in transplant care. Her first visit to the center was in November 2019, which was followed by testing, the pandemic and life in general, all of which contributed to some delays. Her successful surgery was completed in July 2021.
Shannon now feels compelled to raise awareness about the process and how common kidney disease is. She also aims to dispel some commonly held myths around living organ donation.
Myth #1: It’s going to shorten your life
“Statistically speaking, I was more likely to die in the car driving to the hospital than I was to have a fatal event as a result of the surgery,” Shannon says. “Living donor life expectancy is higher than that of the general population, because donors must prove their health before being approved for the procedure. So typically, somebody who's approved to be a living donor is in much better health than the average person.”
She explains that she doesn’t feel any different today than she did prior to the surgery. “It doesn't impact the donor's life that much. Yes, my kidney function isn't quite up to where it was before, but it's still enough to keep me healthy.”
Myth #2: The surgery is invasive
Many people think that donation surgeries are difficult procedures that leave you with large, unsightly scars, and require long hospital stays. In fact, today’s surgeries are conducted laparoscopically, which are much less invasive and offer a shorter recovery time. The scar is similar to that of a Cesarean section.
Shannon’s surgery lasted about five hours and she spent one night in the hospital. “I'm not going to say it was nothing,” she admits. “I was pretty sore the next few days and, while I chose to be discharged the next day to get home to my family, I probably could have stayed another night. But considering I gave away an organ, I felt really great the next day.”
She adds, “UW Health does a lot of living donor surgeries. They are one of only a few hospitals in Wisconsin for living donor transplants, and they’re one of the top kidney transplant centers in the country. They’re fantastic.”
Myth #3: It’s expensive
There is very little that the donor pays for out of pocket. The recipient’s health insurance covers the costs of medical testing, surgery and post-operative care. Additional costs associated with travel can be reimbursed or deducted from Wisconsin state taxes. Living donors who are employed are allowed up to six weeks off under the Wisconsin Bone Marrow and Organ Donation Leave Act. The hospital provides a donation coordinator to help donors navigate these more complex aspects.
Myth #4: It takes a special person to do this
“You don’t have to be a saint to be a living donor,” Shannon says. “It just takes a person who is healthy enough and has the heart to make it happen. I just had this idea and it was something I felt drawn to do. I understand that not everybody does. But there's a really high need for it, so if you're able and willing, it's worthwhile to at least look into it.”
How to become a donor
There are many ways to become a donor, beyond living donation. The simplest way is to register to be a donor on your Wisconsin driver’s license.
“The ultimate issue is that there are almost 100,000 people in the United States who are on a donor list waiting for a transplant,” Shannon says. “If your ethics allow you to donate your organs if you were to pass away, that's a really good thing.”
If you want to look into becoming a living organ donor, Shannon suggests visiting the UW Health website and completing an initial screening form.
And if organ donation isn’t for you, you can donate money or time. There are many other charitable ways that you can support the cause. Two organizations that Shannon recommends are Donate Life Wisconsin and the National Kidney Foundation.
Making a difference
Shannon doesn’t know anything about the recipient of her kidney, and she is okay with that. “If he or she ever wants to contact me, they can,” she says. “But it’s up to them. I don’t want them to have to think about it if they don’t want to.
“Honestly, I got so much more intrinsically out of the process than I could have ever imagined. You feel like you're making such a difference in another person’s—another family’s—life. Even if you never meet the other person, it’s such a phenomenal feeling. It's one of the best things I've ever done in my whole life.”
And what about Shannon’s former colleague? The one who inspired this act of kindness 20-plus years ago? “She’s alive and well and enjoying her retirement,” Shannon says. “She and her donor just celebrated their 12-year kidney-versary, and it’s been neat to see her live her life.”