Organ Recipient Has Become Active Volunteer
It is impossible for an organ recipient to repay his donor for the gift of life. So some recipients, including Montfort, Wis. resident Doug Bartow, choose instead to pay it forward and volunteer their time promoting organ donation.
Four years ago, Doug, 58, learned he had a protein deficiency that was destroying his liver. Doctors told him he would die without a liver transplant. He was finally so sick he was admitted at University of Wisconsin Hospital as a status 1 patient. That meant he was close to death and, therefore, at the top of the waiting list.
During this time, Doug was offered a liver, but he was struggling with an infection and a heart issue and was not well enough to have the transplant. Fortunately, he recovered and doctors fixed his heart issue. Soon after, another liver became available.
"The whole time I was in the hospital, it hit my family harder than it hit me," he says. "At that point I was so sick I didn't even care."
He received his new liver on July 19, 2010, and returned home on July 29 after spending 80 days in the hospital.
Four months after Doug was released from the hospital, he returned to his job as a sales manager for ZEE Medical, a company that provides workplace safety and first aid training. He also started speaking to driver's education classes about organ donation.
In 2011, Doug volunteered to talk about organ donation at an employee health fair at Oshkosh State Prison. That was where he met Desiree Geffers of Neenah, Wis., a woman who was preparing to donate a kidney to her brother, and Teresa Paulus of Oshkosh, Wis., a mother who donated her three-year-old son's organs after he drowned. Within two weeks, the three had formed Living the Dream, a group that travels around the state promoting organ donation.
"We have been in every part of Wisconsin possible," says Doug. "We speak in churches, fire departments, colleges—anywhere anyone who wants us."
Both on his own and with Living the Dream, Doug volunteered at 75 events in 2012—many of them parades. Of course, it helps that he drives an orange 1965 Ford truck—the same color as Dottie Donor Dot, Wisconsin's Organ, Tissue and Eye Donation mascot.
"To be honest, the color was not intentional," says Doug, who rebuilt the vehicle with his son-in-law. "But it fit perfectly because it matched Dottie."
In addition to parades, he brings his orange truck to classic car cruise nights, where he hands out donor dots, Donate Life bracelets and buttons. As Doug works hard to recruit more donors, he has his own demons to battle. He has been treated for skin cancer—a common result of anti-rejection medications—and has experienced severe depression. He writes to his donor's family every three months, but has not yet heard from them.
"I still can't get over this, that somebody died to let me live," he says. "It's a wonderful gift. I would love to find out more about the person that was."
Though he knows he may never find out about the person his wife and daughters call his "donor angel," Doug is determined to continue his mission. "You can't go home and sit on the couch and feel sorry for yourself," he says.
"My biggest goal is to give back for what I got."