Gary Einerson: A Passion for Organ Donation
We’re excited to introduce a new feature section titled Volunteer for Life, which highlights a UW OTD volunteer who is actively sharing their passion for educating others about the life-saving gifts provided through organ, tissue and eye donation. Meet Gary Einerson, one of the few people who has experienced organ, tissue and eye donation from both sides.
Gary received two cornea transplants about eight years ago and a liver transplant in 2012. Then, on October 25, 2015, his wife, Sandi, died suddenly after a cerebral hemorrhage and was able to donate her kidneys and liver.
“She always wanted to be an organ donor but thought she was too old,” says Gary.
Even before he lost his wife, Gary, now 78, had volunteered his time on the UW Health Transplant Program’s Patient Family Advisory Council (PFAC). But after Sandi became an organ donor, Gary became a force to be reckoned with.
A retired high school principal, he has spoken to teen driver’s education classes about the importance of being an organ donor and to new transplant nurses at University Hospital about the needs of the patients. When SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison unveiled its new donor wall and flag in October 2015, he spoke at the ceremony, sharing his gratitude for the care his wife and family received at the hospital.
“It was hard initially to talk about my wife,” says Gary. “It still is. But you learn to frame it in such a way that it feels good to talk about.”
In fact, it feels so good — and Gary is so passionate about this mission — that he has made a concerted effort to speak at as many venues as possible. “You put more than two people together, and I’ll talk to them about organ donation,” says Gary.
Both Gary and his daughter, Jane Bumgardner, of Sturgeon Bay (who also volunteers as a speaker), consider it a tribute to their wife and mother to spend their time promoting organ donation. Sandi, who was always on the move, was a retired teacher and active at their church. She logged more than 30,000 miles a year traveling back and forth to Chicago to see their grandchildren. Since losing her mother, Jane has corresponded with the man who received Sandi’s liver.
“My life was saved, and my wife saved lives,” says Gary. “Registering as an organ, tissue and eye donation is something I encourage everyone to strongly consider.”