On the face of it, there wasn’t anything specific about Eileen Rooney Hausermann’s life growing up in Vermont that might have indicated she would one day be an organ donor.
She grew up in Essex Junction, in a large, healthy family, with no hospital experiences as a child and young woman. And yet there were small things. When she was just 12 or 13, her mother showed her a Readers Digest article about organ donation.
It made an impression.
Then, in 2000, as evening manager at The Ronald McDonald House, she watched a family caring for their son, who was struggling with a second rejection from a kidney transplant.
It made an impression.
With the young boy in mind, she began looking into kidney transplantation. Though he passed away before she was able to get through the process, she pursued her interest, undergoing a series of medical and psychological tests before ultimately being approved.
Eileen says that Marta Taylor, organ donation coordinator at then-Fletcher Allen Health Care, asked her every step of the way if she wanted to go forward. And in a process that she says today can only be described as a “leap of faith,” there was a curveball: tests revealed benign liver lesions, which delayed her becoming a donor for a year.
But in November of 2005, all hurdles had been cleared and Eileen donated a kidney anonymously to Jennifer Dudley. It was the first set of back-to-back surgeries at Fletcher Allen, in which a healthy person donated a kidney to a stranger. Says Marta, “The idea of an anonymous kidney donation – giving a kidney to someone you do not know and have no relationship with, had never been explored in our program before.”
As it turned out, the “stranger” part turned out to be temporary. After the surgery, the women decided they wanted to meet – and there began an improbable friendship that lasted until Dudley passed away from colon cancer in 2013.
Today, Eileen says the memories and experiences connected to this altruistic act have had lifelong implications. “Would I do it again? Absolutely. While I lost a physical part of me, I gained so much more: the passion and drive of advocating for organ donation; and, equally important, a deeply meaningful friendship.”
That friendship evolved over the years. Eileen and Jenni, who, coincidentally, both lived in Colchester, forged a bond based on their powerful shared experience and a mutual respect and admiration. “Jenni lived a life of adventure and service to others,” says Eileen. “To give someone the ability to carry on a life of adventure and service is, to me, the gift of a lifetime.”
And there are others who, being a part of this experience, benefited from this gift as well. Says Marta, “Working with Eileen throughout this process, I received much more than I gave. Eileen had a profound effect on my career as a nurse and a transplant coordinator. She gave much more than a kidney.”
Today, Eileen continues to advocate for organ donation. “Anyone who’s even willing to look into it – you’re a hero,” she says. “Talk to your family, address your fears, trust the process. And then take a leap and say, ‘this is what I’m doing. Because it’s in my heart.’”
Organ Donation by the Numbers
- In the last 20 years, there have been 346 living kidney donors registered in Vermont. So far, only one person has registered to be a living kidney donor in Vermont in 2018.
- The current waiting list for kidney transplant in Vermont is 63.
- The national waiting list for kidney transplant is 125,661.
- The median waiting time for a kidney donation in our region from 2011-2014 was 1234 days.
Learn more about organ donation visit DONATE LIFE VERMONT online at http://donatelifevt.org/home/