When a car crash claimed the life of Bob Spencer’s 16-year-old daughter, he was searching for a meaningful way to honor her. Then, the Spencer family remembered their teen’s wishes: She had chosen to be an organ donor.
Through Mid-America Transplant Services (MTS), the regional organ and tissue procurement organization for eastern Missouri, southern Illinois and northeast Arkansas, Spencer’s daughter’s heart was given to an 11-year-old boy who had only days to live before the lifesaving transplant. Today, Spencer finds comfort and meaning in the fact that his daughter lives on through others saved by her organs. “Helping others live—that’s pretty good meaning.”
MTS works with local transplant centers at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, St. Louis Children’s Hospital, SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and Saint Louis University Hospital, as well as 120 donor hospitals in its service area, to facilitate the donation process.
Another crucial component to the organ procurement process is the work of Aero Charter. A partner of MTS for more than 22 years, Aero Charter provides a medical transport service for donors and organs. One of its 14 aircrafts can be launched within 90 minutes at any time, minimizing the time organs must be preserved and maximizing the outcome for recipients.
Co-owner and pilot John Morgenthaler says Aero Charter “gets the job done, whatever it takes.” One snowy night challenged him to prove that dedication. After flying in a heart for a Barnes-Jewish Hospital patient, the snow blocked an ambulance from finishing the transport. So Morgenthaler took the situation into his own hands. He hopped into Aero Charter’s snow plow and used it to complete the delivery, with help from local law enforcement clearing the roads to the hospital. “There’s no better satisfaction than knowing you are really helping someone,” he notes. “We have 18 pilots and we all take a lot of pride in it. It’s great that we can help so many people.”
Through the teamwork of MTS and Aero Charter, 557 organs were transplanted from 165 donors last year. But the need is still great. There are almost 1,500 people currently waiting for a lifesaving organ in the MTS service region. Nationally, a name is added to the organ transplant waiting list every 10 minutes, and an average of 18 people die each day from the lack of available organs for transplant. To help, MTS encourages people to visit donatelifemissouri.com. Anyone can be a potential donor regardless of age, race or medical history, and there is no cost to the donor or their family.
Following an organ donation, MTS continues to support donor families through bereavement services and memorial events. Spencer says his family tried everything to overcome their daughter’s death, but it wasn’t until experiencing MTS’ family support groups that they felt some closure. “Everyone there had the organ donation connection and could all feel each other’s stories.” At a candlelight march hosted by Saint Louis University Hospital, MTS also helped the Spencer family connect with the boy who received their daughter’s heart. “We were able to meet this little boy and have a cry with his mom,” Spencer recalls. “MTS was able to put all that together for us; and ever since then, they have been good to us and we’ve been able to heal a lot faster and a lot more completely with their support.”