Nearly 70 percent of Clark County residents are registered organ donors, the highest percentage of any community in the state, according to Clark Circuit Clerk Paula Joslin.
April is National Donate Life Month, and the Clark Circuit Clerk’s Office is trying to draw attention to organ and tissue donation, and the number of lives it saves.
Organ donation is a special cause for the Kentucky Circuit Clerks, who manage the Trust for Life organ donor awareness program. Because of the program, every resident in Kentucky who renews a driver’s license has the option to join the statewide organ donor registry, and donate $1 to organ donor awareness campaigns.
Both Joslin and deputy clerk Perri Wilson are staunch supporters of the Trust for Life, for reasons beyond their place of employment.
Joslin is the niece of former clerk Arthur “Whitey” Walson, who helped create the Trust for Life with the Kentucky Association of Circuit Court Clerks in 1992 after losing a cousin who was waiting for a heart transplant. In her three years as Clark Circuit Clerk, Joslin said she has worked to promote the program as a way to continue her uncle’s efforts.
“It all comes back to his vision. It began here, and people support it because it began here. They see how important it is,” Joslin said.
For Perri, organ donation means her husband, Kevin Wilson, is alive today.
In 2002, at age 46, Kevin Wilson was diagnosed with a genetic liver deficiency known as ALPHA 1 Anti-trypsin, and his health quickly began to deteriorate. In March 2003, he was added to the transplant list. By November, doctors estimated that, without a liver transplant, Kevin only had five to seven days left to live.
Although ALPHA¿1 Anti-trypsin is a genetic disease, Kevin’s condition was exacerbated by contact with viral hepatitis when he was 5, and doctors believe his liver had been deteriorating ever since.
“It was a very eye-opening, frightening experience,” Perri said.
Kevin and Perri both remember the night they found out Kevin would receive a new liver. They were at home in Winchester when the phone rang at about 11 p.m. By midnight, they were at Jewish Hospital and Kevin was being prepared for his surgery.
There were seven fatalities in Kentucky the day Kevin had his surgery, and the family has no way of knowing who donated his liver. According to the Trust for Life magazine, only 1 percent of the population dies in a way that makes it possible to transplant their organs.
“I think about that person every day,” Kevin said. “When you die, your organs are no good to you, so why not donate to help someone else have a few more years of life?”
Both the Wilsons are on the organ donor registry, and Kevin hopes to become more involved in advocating for organ donation. Last year, he was invited to speak about his experiences in Indiana, where the state operates a program similar to Trust for Life.
Prior to the transplant, Kevin said he remembers wondering if he would make it through each day.
“There were many nights the fluid retention was unbearable,” Kevin said. “You lay down at night, and you think, ‘Is this gonna be it?’”
After the transplant, Kevin’s new liver immediately began functioning, and doctors were hopeful he would make a full recovery. There were a few minor setbacks, but by Christmas Eve 2003, Kevin was back at home with his family.
Joslin said she was happy to see how things worked out for the Wilson family, and praised the Trust for Life for giving so many families more time together.
“It’s something to read about, and to do it, but when you’re sitting there with someone who wouldn’t be there without the transplant, it’s just amazing,” Joslin said.
The days prior to the transplant were a “dark tunnel,” according to Perri, who also was caring for her father, who was suffering from cancer at the same time.
Thanks to the transplant, though, Kevin was able to see his daughter, Senchrea Wilson Thompson, get married and see his grandson, Tucker Thompson, born.
“He’s Pappy’s pride and joy,” Kevin said.
Since 2003, Kevin has recovered enough to return to work, now serving as supervisor at the Clark County Road Department, and doctors recently took him off one of his anti-rejection medications.
“It’s a gift. There are no words in Webster’s Dictionary to explain it,”¿Perri said of organ donation. “You thought beyond yourselves and made that decision for someone else.”
To become a registered organ donor, visit www.trustforlife.org.
Contact Rachel Parsons at firstname.lastname@example.org.