Double organ donor finds joy in giving life twice

Organ donation saves lives
Published: Mar. 12, 2023 at 9:45 PM CDT|Updated: Mar. 13, 2023 at 10:21 AM CDT
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APPLETON, Wis. (WBAY) - An Appleton woman has joined a rare club of being a living donor of two organs.

According to research, fewer than 100 people have donated both a kidney and part of their liver.

“A lot of times people who need organs have loved ones willing to donate, but they can’t… 1 in 4 for liver can actually do it cause everything has to line up,” said Joy Schumacher, a living donor.

It lined up twice for the Appleton native after she gave 70 percent of her liver to a stranger.

“More people just know about living donation for the kidney because you have two, so people know you can give one away and live a happy healthy life,” said Dr. David Al-Adra, assistant professor of surgery at UW Health. “It’s less commonly known that livers can be partitioned in a way that the donor receives a graft and there’s still adequate remnant for the donor.”

The liver is the only organ in the body that can regenerate lost tissue in about 6 weeks, but it takes some work.

“For the first few weeks after the transplant, they’ll be really tired. The liver is going to be sucking out their body’s energy, regenerating, growing and getting back to a proper functional size,” said Dr. Al-Adra.

“You will nap like you’ve never napped before,” said Schumacher.

Schumacher said it’s a small price to pay to help someone on a donor waiting list. One of her doctors was nervous about letting her donate a second organ after giving a kidney decades ago, but Schumacher said her kidney function improved after donating her liver tissue.

“That’s how god shines through,” said Schumacher. “Dr. Al-Adra said he can’t medically explain it—but I can, I know who is behind it.”

Schumacher comes from a large family with 11 siblings. She did not inherit her dad’s polycystic kidney disease gene.

“Six of my siblings got that bad gene… to date, 5 have had kidney transplants from some of us,” said Schumacher.

Schumacher donated a kidney to her sister 19 years ago. Her other siblings have done the same thing, but at one point, they still needed one more kidney for her brother.

“I went online to do an organ swap,” said Schumacher. “I didn’t have another kidney to donate, but I had a liver.”

Schumacher turned to UW Health in Madison because ‘it allows you to sign up to donate an organ in exchange for someone else donating an organ to your loved one. So that is how I signed up to donate my liver,” said Schumacher.

Schumacher’s brother ended up getting a kidney from another relative, so Schumacher no longer needed to be part of the organ swap.

However, she said it didn’t seem right removing her name from the list. Schumacher knows what’s it’s like to be the family on the receiving end of organ donation.

“I am a woman of faith and I feel God put me in this family for a reason. Not just to donate an organ, but I really feel he put me in this family so I would feel compassion, to know what it’s like firsthand. I lost my dad at 19 so to lose a parent and see my siblings over the next 30 years go through something similar and see their organs fail … it’s really hard and has given me a great sense of compassion for people,” said Schumacher.

It’s that experience, compassion and faith that led Schumacher to donate a second organ and become the first living donor at UW Health to do so.

Schumacher wants you to know you can find joy in giving life, too.

“I hope this interview brings hope to those who are on a transplant list or waiting for an organ or hoping someone comes forward. I hope this gives them hope that there are people out there, they will, they will come forward. Sometimes you need to be reminded or hear it a couple times before it sets in,” said Schumacher. “I hope for those who are even contemplating it or never heard of it, that they will consider it and take that step froward.”

Right now, more than 2,000 people in Wisconsin, including children, are on the national waiting list for an organ transplant.

“The world needs more people like Joy,” said Dr. Al-Adra.

If you would like to learn more about becoming a living donor, click on the links below.

UW Health Organ Donation

UW Health Living Donor

UW Health Transplant Center

United Network for Organ Sharing

Living Donation

Organ Donor