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Organ donor spouse, organ recipient, to share stories at Carle Health Donate Life events

Organ donor spouse, organ recipient, to share stories at Carle Health Donate Life events
In a horrible situation, Jennifer Durst found one thing that made sense.

In a different situation, Adam Lovell went from having no energy to training for a half-marathon and doing more for his community.

Durst and Lovell, while their stories are different, have been changed forever by organ donation. Durst’s husband, Ethan, became an organ and tissue donor following his death in a tragic accident. Lovell became a kidney and pancreas transplant recipient after nearly dying from low kidney function, diabetes and a rare medical condition.

Both will share their stories during National Donate Life Month events next week. April is National Donate Life Month.

Durst, of Urbana, will be keynote speaker during the organ donation awareness event at noon April 28 at the Heart and Vascular Institute entrance to Carle Foundation Hospital (CFH) in Urbana. Lovell, of Bloomington, will be keynote speaker during the organ donation awareness event at 3:30 p.m. April 25 at the main entrance to Carle BroMenn Medical Center in Normal.

Both events are open to the public.

The Carle Foundation Hospital event also will include a welcome by Elizabeth Angelo, CFH president and chief nursing officer; comments by Harry Wilkins, MD, Liz Ewing and Alexis Plumb of the Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network; a story of hope by Michelle Moore, whose daughter, Lacey, was an organ donor; a raising of the Gift of Hope flag; a prayer by Chaplain Jeffrey McPike; and a memorial walk.

The BroMenn event also will include a welcome by John Wieland, MD, BroMenn chief medical officer; a blessing by Mollie Ward, BroMenn director of Spiritual Care; comments by Wilkins and Jill Young of Gift of Hope; a presentation of the Gift of Hope flag by Shelly Hillary, BroMenn intensive care unit nurse manager; and a raising of the Gift of Hope flag.

In 2022, CFH had 17 organ donors who saved 51 lives because more than one organ may be transplanted from each donor. In addition, CFH had 59 tissue donors who enhanced numerous lives.

“Nationwide, we know that more than 100,000 people are waiting for lifesaving organ transplants,” Angelo said. “We’re proud of our role as a donating hospital and know that lives are saved each year because of the Carle team’s commitment to supporting organ donation.”

In 2022, BroMenn had four organ donors who saved 20 lives and 24 tissue donors who enhanced numerous lives.

“At Carle BroMenn Medical Center, we see firsthand the value and benefits of organ and tissue donation,” BroMenn President Colleen Kannaday said. “We care for many individuals whose lives have previously been saved as the recipient of an organ donation and we also experience the healing and peace that families experience – often during tragic situations – when they know other lives will be saved through the selfless act of their loved one’s organ donation. These events help us raise awareness around the significant number of individuals who are on the list for a life-saving organ.”

Jennifer Durst’s story

Jennifer Morgan met Ethan Durst in 2007. He was an associate pastor at Faith Church in Urbana, she was a certified nursing assistant at a nursing home and they met when he was visiting a resident there. They married in 2009 and had four children: Elsie, 12; Emeline, 11; Harry, 9; and Robbie, 6.

“He was very intelligent,” she said. “He was funny, caring, a hard worker and a strong Christian. He was a great father. He always had at least one of the kids with him. And he was a great husband.”

At the church, he did whatever needed to be done, including driving the Sunday school bus.

On Aug. 14, 2021, he was putting tar on the roof of the church activity building. He was coming down a ladder when it flipped backward onto the parking lot. Jennifer rushed to the scene. Her husband was breathing but not responsive, suffering a head injury.

Jennifer Durst was a nurse practitioner for trauma surgery at CFH. “I was on the flip side of it. It was just hard.”

Ethan was admitted to CFH but his prognosis wasn’t good. “I was praying that something would turn around. But, having the medical knowledge, I knew that it was not going in the direction I wanted it to go.”

She spoke with a critical care doctor who confirmed there was no hope. A test on Aug. 16 revealed that her husband was brain dead. He was 47.

Knowing that she couldn’t save her husband, she focused on saving others. She talked with representatives of Gift of Hope, including Liz Ewing.

“In this terrible situation, I was looking for anything that made sense,” she said. “The Gift of Hope people answered all my questions. I didn’t feel pressured. It was comforting knowing that, while this horrible thing happened to Ethan, we had the ability to help other people.”

Ewing spoke with and comforted not just Jennifer Durst but her children, Durst recalled with tears in her eyes. “You have this support system. It was like you’ve known them forever.”

After organ recipients were found, Durst said goodbye to her husband and their children said goodbye to their father. His liver and both kidneys were donated, saving three people. Bone, skin and tendon grafts have been used 105 times.

“It actually makes me feel pretty good,” Durst said. “The liver and kidney recipients are doing really well. He helped people when he was alive. Now, he’s helping people after his passing.”

A year and a half later, “I think we’re doing pretty good,” Durst, 40, said. Her children attended Carle Hospice’s Camp Healing Heart, for kids who have lost a parent, and that has helped them work through the grief. “They know it’s OK to be sad, it’s OK to miss him, it’s OK to talk about it. We talk about him all the time.”

Durst returned to work at CFH two months after her husband’s death “but it was hard for me to take care of patients like Ethan.” She was hired at Parkland Community College as a nursing instructor.

“I think it’s important for people to know about the process of organ donation and Gift of Hope,” Durst said. “I think it’s important for people to talk about organ donation. I was 39. We never talked about organ donation. So I had to think, ‘What would Ethan do?’”

“Organ donation can take a horrible situation and turned it into something positive. It gives comfort and hope and your loved one is living on through other people.”

Adam Lovell’s story

Adam Lovell was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, once known as juvenile diabetes, at age 10. When he was 23, he had a foot injury that resulted in a severe infection. He was on an intravenous antibiotic for five weeks but that wore down his kidneys. In addition, he developed a rare condition called hypoglycemia unawareness, which meant he couldn’t sense fluctuations in his blood sugar.

“I was not getting blood sugar to anything,” he said. “I was running out of energy. It would come on suddenly. I would collapse out of my chair. I was rushed to the emergency department 10 times in a year. It would get scary, not knowing when I might collapse.”

Lovell was paired with a service dog, Buddy, who could detect when Lovell’s blood sugar was low before it became disabling and would nudge Lovell so he would drink juice or eat candy.

Meanwhile, his kidneys were beginning to fail. Lovell went to Mayo Clinic, which put him on an experimental drug that kept him off dialysis for three years. Eventually, he needed dialysis.

“Dialysis isn’t fun, it’s painful and it takes its toll on your body,” Lovell said. “It’s three to 3 ½ hours, three times a week, but it keeps you alive.”

Lovell continued to go to work. He admitted that his bosses were kind.

“I’d fall asleep at my desk. Life was eating what little food I was allowed to eat, going to work and dialysis. Buddy went with me everywhere. I was tired all the time. I had no energy. It felt like I ran a marathon every single day.”

Eventually, his kidney function was low enough that he was put on a kidney transplant list. Because his diabetes had become unmanageable, he also qualified to be on a pancreas transplant list.

After 3 ½ years on the lists, in October 2009, he received a kidney and pancreas transplant in an 8 ½-hour surgery. He was 31.

“The surgery went very well, as did the healing process,” Lovell said. “After 21 years of insulin injections every day, I didn’t need a drop, thanks to the pancreas. I went from little kidney function to nearly 100% kidney function and not needing dialysis, thanks to the kidney.”

Lovell not only got his energy back but a renewed sense of purpose. “I got a new start because of somebody else’s sacrifice. I gotta keep living for this person too.”

Lovell changed his career path. Now 45, he is grants coordinator at Richland Community College in Decatur. He also got more involved in his community and is president of Transplant Life Illinois, whose mission is to empower those touched by organ and tissue donation.

He worked on his health, ran a half-marathon and became a cyclist. He married Caitlin Clyne three years ago and they are expecting their first child in May.

Because the biggest fear of organ transplant is the body’s rejection of the organ, Lovell takes anti-rejection drugs that suppress his immune system. So, an infection that might make someone else sick for a few days could land him in the hospital. When he got COVID-19 in November 2022, he was hospitalized and off work for two weeks. But he knows that it would have been worse if he hadn’t been vaccinated and boosted.

“I became a Gift of Hope ambassador as a way to help,” Lovell said. “Doing events like the one at BroMenn is a way to share awareness and share my story. I’d like to empower those affected by donation, support donor families and recipients and encourage people to register to become donors.”

“You can’t take your organs with you when you die. A part of you can go on living. It’s profound to think about.”

A call to action

People wishing to learn more are invited to attend either event. Anyone interested in registering to be an organ donor may do so here or through Gift of Hope.

Categories: Community

Tags: Bloomington-Normal, Carle, Champaign-Urbana, community, donation, hospital, medical, organ, trauma