April is National Donate Life Month

Penn Highlands Healthcare Supports CORE Efforts

April 08, 2016

Dean Hetrick can lead a normal life thanks to an organ donor's generosity. He is shown looking for lights for his next home project.

Dean Hetrick of Ohl was a normal 20-something year-old in the 1980s. He worked during the day, helped a friend on a farm at night and Saturdays, played softball, volleyball and basketball, and bowled.

One Friday night – after a three-on-three basketball game – he used the restroom in the locker room and something was wrong. He saw a lot of blood in his urine.

He went to his doctor to see what was going on. He was sent to Danville to a doctor and for more tests. They watched and waited for three to four years. Then, Hetrick was sent to Erie for testing and a biopsy on his kidney.

Hetrick was diagnosed with IgA nephropathy. IgA nephropathy is a kidney disorder that occurs when IgA - a protein that helps the body fight infections -settles in the kidneys. After many years, the IgA deposits may cause the kidneys to leak blood and sometimes protein in the urine.

The first plan of action was vigilant testing with a specialist in Erie every few months. His life went on as usual.

After years with IgA nephropathy, the kidneys may show signs of damage. About 25 percent of adults with IgA nephropathy develop total kidney failure.

After 10 plus years in 1992, Hetrick, then age 37, met and fell in love with Dianne, his wife. At that same time, after years of “watching,” Hetrick was told he would need dialysis. “This meant that I had to be hooked up to a machine for 3-4 hours, three day a week,” he said.

He was still working eight-hour days and would be so tired that he would nap in his truck in the driveway before he could get himself into his house. He was on the list for a kidney transplant, but those take time to get. It wasn’t the way he wanted to start his new life with his bride, but they got through it together.

After 2.5 years of dialysis, he received a call that a kidney was available in Pittsburgh. Within 24 hours and a surgery, “I was feeling the best I had in a very long time,” Hetrick said. “In two months, I was back to work and feeling good.”

“We were very grateful for the donor,” he said. Donations are anonymous for the families, but Hetrick overheard the doctor talking. His donor was a six-year-old from Pittsburgh who died after a traffic accident. It was winter, and there were many accidents that day, he recalled. Helicopters were coming in and out of the hospital.

“I started thinking about what those parents had to do to give me life,” Hetrick said. “I know my donor family must still hurt from the loss that they suffered....I would not be here without them.”

After the first transplant, Hetrick also was told he wouldn’t have lived much longer without it. “If I had not gotten my first transplant when I did, I would not have seen my kids grow up and get married, or my five grandchildren,” Hetrick said.

A friend had wanted to donate his kidney to Hetrick. “I did not feel that was an option at the time,” Hetrick said. “I could look out my window and see his four young children playing in the yard and with other kids. I couldn’t risk something happening to him and not being around as his children grew. He was almost a perfect match and was tested before he even uttered a word to us. That is a true friend.”

Since his first transplant, Hetrick has received a second kidney and a third kidney as problems can occur in a transplanted organs, especially after ten or more years.

He also has diabetes and other side effects from receiving a transplant. He also takes 20 medications per day. But he isn’t complaining.

“At first I was scared of having a transplant, but later, I knew by getting a new kidney, I was going to get better,” Hetrick said. It’s not easy, he said. If you don’t have God, family and friends, it would be a lot harder.”

Stories like Hetrick’s are unfortunately not rare, and Hetrick is often in the community advocating for people to become organ donors.

Transplants are not done at Penn Highlands Healthcare hospitals, but people who need organ transplants are seen by physicians and staff regularly. Penn Highlands Healthcare is also an advocate for organ donation.

April is National Donate Life Month. This month, the hospitals team up with CORE, the Center for Organ Recovery & Education, to remind people of the importance of organ donation.

CORE is one of 58 federally designated not-for-profit organ procurement organizations in the United States. It works closely with donor families and designated health care professionals to deliver the gift of hope by coordinating the surgical recovery of organs, tissues and corneas for transplantation. CORE also helps with the computerized matching of donated organs, tissues and corneas with those who need them.

With headquarters in Pittsburgh and an office in Charleston, W. Va., CORE oversees a region of 155 hospitals, including Penn Highlands Brookville, Penn Highlands Clearfield, Penn Highlands DuBois and Penn Highlands Elk.

Why do hospitals care about organ donation? “The role of the hospitals and their staff has never been more important than now with so many people waiting for transplants,” Debra Thomas, RN, chief nursing officer and liaison to CORE at PH Brookville, said. “According to statistics, there are nearly 121,000 men, women and children are awaiting organ transplants in the US and 250,000 await tissue and cornea transplant each day. At least 18 will die each day without receiving an organ transplant, including two from our CORE Service area.”

“Becoming an organ, tissue or eye donor is an incredible and noble gift because you can give someone a second chance at life,” Cindy Salerno, RN, director of the Med/Surg Department, Pediatric Unit and Intermediate Care Unit, and liaison to CORE, at PH Elk, said.

“Just about anyone, at any age, can become an organ donor. Anyone younger than age 18 needs to have the consent of a parent or guardian,” she said. “Regardless of age, race or medical history, advances in technology now allow more people than ever to be donors including older adults and those with previous medical conditions.”

“All major religions in the United States support, organ, tissue and cornea donation and see it as a final act of love and generosity towards others,” said Lisa Rorabaugh, RN, director of Patient Safety, Risk Management and Patient Experience at PH Clearfield. “In fact, the majority of these religions recognize that the donation of organs and tissues is a selfless act that results in life giving benefits that they encourage organ donation.”

“Some religions recognize organ donation as a ‘commanded obligation’ which saves lives. It is important to remember; organ transplantation does not desecrate the body or show lack of respect for the decedent. Organ donation saves lives and honors the deceased,” she said.

“I know many people have concerns about the level of care they are provided when faced with an emergency situation and being an organ donor,” Joanne Kurtz, RN, director of the Intensive Care Unit at PH DuBois, and hospital liaison to CORE, said. “Please be assured that emergency department and pre-hospital staff do not know if a patient is an organ donor. They will do everything they can to revive patients when faced with emergency situations.”

If you are interested in becoming an organ donor, individuals are encouraged to talk with family members and friends about making the Pledge for Life to become a donor. To sign up, visit

PH Brookville also hosts a CORE Task Force meeting for the region. This group works to educate and promote organ donation. Meetings are held on the second Wednesdays of each month in the PH Brookville Education Center directly next to the PH Brookville hospital building.