2015 Transplant and Organ Donation Calendar: Henry Mackaman

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Heart Transplant

Meredith, Henry's mother, and Walter, the recipient of Henry’s heart, with his photo on the Memorial Union TerraceHenry Mackaman became an organ donor at the age of 21, after dying unexpectedly from bacterial meningitis. Henry was a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


His many talents included performing music and writing poems, plays and stories. Perhaps Henry's greatest gift was his gentle heart, which now lives on in Walter Goodman, a professor at the university Henry loved.


At UW, Henry was majoring in economics and creative writing. He was honored with a posthumous degree, as he was just one credit short of graduating as a junior.


Henry lived his short life to the fullest. He filled journals with his thoughts, dreams and stories. In high school, he wrote songs and performed in a band. At UW, he wrote a play that was staged and performed at the student union.


Christine Monahan, social worker with the UW Organ and Tissue Donation Family Services program

He was also a disc jockey at WSUM, hosting his own show, "The Grooving Tree," which was a take-off of one of his favorite books. He traveled through Europe and treasured his relationships with his brother Owen and his many good friends. His generous spirit and his creative gifts have forever left their mark and are his legacy to those who knew and loved him. He is his own example of a giving tree.


Henry died very rapidly from bacterial meningitis. At first he thought he had a bad case of the flu. Later, he walked himself back to the hospital because he was having stroke-like symptoms. At the hospital, he had a seizure, went into a coma and never regained consciousness. He had decided to become an organ donor when he was 16 and his family fulfilled his wish, including donating his heart to someone in need.


Walter had suffered a heart attack in 2011 and his health continued to decline. He was implanted with a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) and as he waited for a heart transplant, was able to return to his position at UW-Madison as a teacher and researcher. He didn't know that his transplant journey would begin with a donation so close to home.


Henry's mother, Meredith, met Walter through the donor family services correspondence program at UW Organ and Tissue Donation (UW OTD). Knowing that Henry's heart lives on in Walter gives Meredith a deep sense of comfort and purpose. "Walter is so kind and humble," says Meredith. "Meeting him is like having a new family, and gives me a way to stay connected to Henry."


Christine Monahan, a social worker with the UW OTD Donor Family Services program, says, "Ultimately, through the donation program, we hope to transform grief and loss into hope, healing and purpose. The correspondence program helps us achieve that."


Like Meredith, others find new family connections through the correspondence program.


Henry's mother Meredith had these magnets made, and Professor Walter Goodman hands them out to his students in honor of his heart donor.

"It's difficult when families experience a sudden, tragic loss, but they are often able to find some comfort in the legacy of the gift of life that was given," says Christine. "It helps give their grief a place to lie."


Walter was honored to meet Henry's mother and feels strongly about honoring Henry's spirit and gift of life. He helped to fully endow a writing scholarship at UW-Madison, in Henry's honor, to encourage students to expand their writing skills.


Meredith works to educate young people on the symptoms of meningitis in hopes of saving other lives as well. She developed a refrigerator magnet that lists the symptoms of meningitis and encourages students to tell friends and go to the doctor right away if they experience any of them. Henry's website has more details on this important outreach effort.


Walter in turn feels very strongly about spreading Meredith's message. He passed the magnets out to his students and even offered extra credit if they shared "selfies" to show they had placed the magnets on their refrigerators.


"There's no reason not to be an organ donor," says Meredith. "It gives me a sense of comfort and purpose to know that, because of Henry, someone else will have a chance to write a poem or a song."