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Organ transplant recipient shows appreciation for his donors


BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Two-time liver transplant recipient Dave Hanson, of Mandan, says it’s hard to describe what the days and months felt like leading up to his receiving “the call,” which he experienced twice, letting him know he was a match for an organ he very much needed.

The 47-year-old’s first call, in which the voice on the other end of the line questioned whether Hanson could make it to the hospital in time for the transplant, came in 1998. Hanson, then a single man with no children, had been on the transplant waiting list for four months.

“It really didn’t hit me because I wasn’t married,” he said to the Bismarck Tribune. “It was just me.”

Hanson had recently been diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis, which he describes as a disease in which the liver’s bile ducts “scar up and harden,” preventing bile from traveling through, which leads to jaundice, or the yellowing of one’s skin.

His liver transplant on April 14, 1998, was a success. However, his disease returned and, in May 2015, he was back on the waiting list.

“The second time around, I have a wife and two children. They were 6 and 8 and just starting out. Every time that phone would ring, and you’d pick it up and it’s not ‘the call.’ There is no way to explain waiting for that call,” he said. “And then when I did get the call, it’s just like, ‘It came.’ It’s just unbelievable how relieving it is to get it.”

Hanson was told to expect the call day or night; it can come at any time. A little more than a month after being placed on the waiting list, on July 5, 2015, the lifesaving call came, just as he was settling in to binge watch “NCIS” on Netflix.

In less than an hour, he and his wife, Andrea, were on their way to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. He said they forgot to pack a few things and almost didn’t make it in time for the transplant due to pouring rain.

“The whole way there, I was just panicking, ‘Are you going to make it? Are you going to make it?’” Hanson said. “And it’s not so much that I’m not going to get my transplant, it’s just that these organs are so hard to come by. And if they can’t get it in me, does it go to waste? That was my biggest fear.”

The couple left Mandan at 6:20 p.m. July 5 and arrived at Mayo Clinic at 2:08 a.m. July 6, in time for the 4 a.m. surgery.

“My doctor told me after the transplant that if I wouldn’t have gotten it that day, I would’ve probably been in Rochester within a few days of that and they would’ve had to start taking evasive procedures to keep me going,” he said, adding that almost four years post-surgery, his liver is “doing great.”

Hanson says there isn’t a day that goes by that he doesn’t think of his donors, who he’s learned more about through written communication with their families. Both were female and the first was a “beautiful, beautiful lady,” he said, judging from the photos he received. The second was a 50-year-old mother of three with a passion for Harley-Davidsons.

“To me, donors, they’re heroes,” he said. “They made the ultimate sacrifice at the worst time of their life to become a donor and to save families.”

Mandan is soon set to host the seventh annual Trails4Transplants horse and ATV ride to raise awareness of the need for organ, eye and tissue donors and to raise money for organ transplant recipients.

The 150-mile Mandan Meander trail ride, slated May 18-27, will begin and end each day at the Hille Windmill Ranch, 14 miles south of Mandan. Participants will have the opportunity to ride to Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, Solen and St. Anthony, among other locations.

Roger Hille, Hanson’s father-in-law, and Ashley Peterson founded the event in 2013, with the goal of riding 2,000 miles and raising $200,000, which were both surpassed at the conclusion of last year’s 317-mile ride in Minnesota. The event has also taken place in South Dakota and Montana.

“We were both horse people, we wanted to do a ride and we didn’t want to just ride, we wanted to do it for a cause,” Hille said, noting that if it wasn’t for Hanson’s first liver transplant, he wouldn’t have his grandchildren, Aiden, 12, and Annabell, 10. Peterson’s brother, who died in an automobile accident, donated many organs.

“It’s been wonderful and it’s grown much more than two people who wanted to ride across the country and raise awareness,” Hille added. “Some (participants) have ridden all the miles, some have ridden one day. But it’s truly open for anyone who’d like to ride.”

Most participants bring their own horse or ATV to ride, but there are some horses to lease for $100 per half day, with registration required.

The daily cost per rider is $25, and all participants are encouraged to solicit sponsorships. The primary recipient of the funds raised is The Gift of Life Transplant House, Rochester, where Hanson stayed for 22 days after his second transplant. The money has also been used to construct memory walls to honor donors in five communities.

“We give money to people who are having transplants, but we also support donor families,” Hanson said. “Whether it’s honoring donors with this ride, or it’s an honor wall, it’s just very important to us to honor them.”

Participants, who typically camp out, must provide their own food, but can expect at least half of their meals to be covered, thanks to donations by local people or groups. Horses will be allowed to graze and a large hay bale will be available on site. Water will be provided along the trail and at the ranch.

Rain or shine, the event will take place. Riders will not hit the trail if it’s lightning or thundering, however.

Hanson says his favorite thing about the ride is the fellowship and listening to the stories told by other organ transplant recipients and donors’ families.

“If you come once, you’re family. It’s just how we are,” he said. “We always say, ‘When you’re ready to tell your story, you’ll be ready to tell your story.’ Everybody heals in a whole different way.”

“We’ve grown a family, is what we’ve done,” Hille added.


Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com

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