Posted on 04/05/2017 at 04:51 PM by YMCA of Greater Des Moines
Tyler Weig, South Suburban YMCA Executive Director
DES MOINES, Iowa – (April 5, 2017) – April is National Donate Life Month, and the YMCA of Greater Des Moines is joining forces with Iowa Donor Network to raise awareness about the need for organ and tissue donors.
The eight YMCA branches in the metro area are sponsoring Organ Donor Awareness Week April 3-9 as part of the Y’s Member Appreciation Month activities. Volunteers from Iowa Donor Network are visiting YMCA branches to answer questions about organ donation and provide members with information on how to register as a donor.
“Promoting organ and tissue donation during Donate Life month is in keeping with the Y’s mission of building healthy spirit, mind and body for all,” said Ruth Comer, director of media relations and marketing for the YMCA of Greater Des Moines. “Our members share the Y’s commitment to social responsibility and enjoy learning about ways they can make a positive difference in the community.
For Tyler Weig, executive director of the South Suburban YMCA, the Donate Life Month activities take on a special meaning. Four years ago, Weig donated a kidney to save the life of someone he had never met.
“The more I researched kidney donation, and the more I learned about it, the more I realized that it was something I could do to help someone else,” Weig said. “So often when we hear about someone suffering from a medical condition, we feel powerless to do anything about it. But there is power in organ donation – instead of playing defense in life and hoping something happens, you are making something happen.”
Weig’s donation odyssey started in 2011, when he read a Facebook post from a former school classmate whose uncle needed a kidney transplant. As he followed the man’s story online, Weig decided to take a test to see if he might be a compatible donor.
“As it turned out, I was a possible match for him, but the man ended up getting a kidney from somewhere else,” Weig said. “However, all the reading and research I had done led me to contact Mercy Medical Center and let them know I wanted to explore the idea of registering as a donor.”
Weig underwent a battery of tests – physical, mental and emotional – to determine his fitness as a donor. As the process went along, he grew increasingly comfortable with the idea of donating a kidney – so much so that when the call came in January of 2013, “saying yes seemed like the natural next step,” he said.
Weig became part of a kidney “paired donation chain” at Mercy – a series of surgeries in which friends or relatives of patients donate kidneys to unrelated recipients on behalf of their loved ones, while their loved ones receive kidneys from other, unrelated donors. There were five recipients and five donors (including Weig) in the chain, which was the largest to date in Iowa. The 10 surgeries took place over the course of three days at Mercy; Weig was the only member of the chain with no connection to one of the recipients (i.e., a “humanitarian donor”).
During the four-hour surgery, doctors removed Weig’s left kidney, which was transplanted into a 42-year-old husband and father from Pella who suffered from polyscystic kidney disease. The man’s wife was also part of the chain, donating her kidney to another recipient for whom she was a match. Weig said other than some soreness during recovery from surgery, he suffered no negative aftereffects and leads a normal, healthy life doing all the activities he wants to do.
Weig encourages anyone who has considered organ donation to take the first step and be open to learning more. Currently, more than 700 Iowans are on transplant waiting lists; nationally, 21 people die each day waiting for organ donations.
“Of all the problems in the world that seem daunting, here is one that has a solution – all it requires is people making the decision to help,” he said. “Organ donation has a positive ripple effect in the community. It has changed my life forever, and I’m grateful to have had the experience.”
For more information on organ and tissue donation, as well as local Donate Life Month activities, visit www.iowadonornetwork.org.