BY KRISTI FISH | MIRROR REPORTER — It’s National Donate Life Month and many organizations, including Life Connection of Ohio, are trying to raise awareness of the importance of organ and tissue donation.
According to Life Con-nection of Ohio, nearly 110,000 people in the United States are waiting for an organ transplant, with more than 3,000 of those people located in Ohio.
An organ transplant has the ability to change someone’s life, providing them with another chance.
For Maumee resident John Fleischmann, that chance came in July of 2014.
“Leading up to that, I was on a waiting list for roughly two years or so, and I was in a very fast downward spiral with my health,” Fleischmann said. “I was in deep, deep kidney failure and I wasn’t able to live life the way that I wanted to. It felt like I was living in a bubble. That lasted from the time I was born until I was 21.”
After his transplant, Fleischmann had more energy to do the things he loved and was able to explore his interests in a way he never had before.
He has loved music his whole life, but after the kidney transplant, he had more energy and wasn’t spending his time concerned about what he ate, where he went and who he was in contact with. He wasn’t thinking about when the next problem would arise, where he’d need to seek emergency care or any of the other problems that had been plaguing him for years. He was able to travel and even go overseas to play music and explore the things that brought him joy.
“I started taking photos and videos of the bands that I played with and fell in love with that, so I decided to make it my side hustle and then that blossomed into the career that I have now,” Fleischmann added.
Without the lifesaving kidney transplant, he’s not sure he would have been able to find a career like this that he loves and is passionate about and have the energy to live this full of a life.
The path to get to this point, was hard, though.
When Fleischmann had been placed on the organ transplant list at Cleveland Clinic, he was told the average wait time was approximately five years. His doctors were afraid that he didn’t have five years, though.
He was then added to The University of Toledo Medical Center’s transplant waiting list, where the expected wait time for him was approximately three years.
“Because Cleveland has a higher waiting list, we found out that you can transfer the time,” Fleishmann said. “Meaning I dropped my time from Cleveland Clinic, which was two years, down to zero and moved that to UTMC, which bumped me from a year and a half to 3-1/2 years, which put me at the very top of the list. I don’t think enough people realize that.”
Just a few weeks after transferring his time from one waiting list to another, Fleischmann got the call he had been waiting on for years. There was a kidney for him.
He knows that transfer between waiting lists made a difference in getting him his kidney, so he’s hoping to help others who might be navigating the process to make sure they research what is possible and become knowledgeable about it.
He also wants others who might have some concerns about registering as an organ donor to do their research.
“I enjoy telling people my story because I think there are a lot of misconceptions about organ donation,” Fleischmann said.
According to Kara Steele, the director of community services at Life Connection of Ohio, some people are concerned if they register to be an organ donor, the hospital staff won’t do everything they can to save their life.
“That could not be further from the truth. Anyone in that hospital setting is only concerned with saving someone’s life. They don’t care if someone’s registered – they don’t know. If every lifesaving measure has been exhausted and that person is a registered donor or their family makes that decision on their behalf, then Life Connection gets involved,” Steele advised.
Those who do become organ donors then have the opportunity to save up to eight lives through organ donation and provide tissue donation for up to 125 individuals.
That choice can allow someone like Fleishmann the chance to live longer and enjoy so much more of his life.
“This surgery has given me the ability to do way more and enjoy and love my life. I’m not taking it for granted and I’m just soaring. Who doesn’t want that type of life?” Fleishmann added. “By making that decision, you’re able to give that to more than one person. Why wouldn’t you want to?”
Every day in the United States, 20 people die while waiting for an organ transplant, Steele noted. Registering to become an organ donor can help lower that number.
There are also other ways to help at Life Connection of Ohio.
Many donor families along with recipients will volunteer with the organization, including Fleishmann and his mom, who’s dedicated much of her time raising awareness on the topic.
“If there is anyone with a connection to donation or even if they do not have a connection and they just support the mission of Life Connection of Ohio, we’d love to have you join our volunteer family,” Steele added.
After going through the 15-month aftercare program, many donor families choose to volunteer with the organization and use it as a way to honor and remember their loved one, Steele said.
For people like Fleishmann, it’s important to donate his time and energy as a way to give back to the organization that did so much for him.
“Anytime anyone has an idea of where we should be to spread the word, we’re open to that as well. We’re just all about getting that education out there any chance we can,” Steele said.
Those who wish to help with the organization’s mission can visit lifeconnection.org.