Dr. Luis Tomatis, MD, FACS, FACC, Director of Medical Affairs for the Richard M. DeVos Family
Rick Herlacher is a man of many triumphs – a “self-made success” some would say. At 54, he claims professional achievement that spans 29 years in the distribution industry as a highly efficient operations consultant – improving processes, building customer support, managing data, and proposing solutions. Rick is a team-player type of guy, perhaps instilled in him from his five year service in the US Air Force. His competitive nature and desire to achieve the utmost success has placed him “In the money” three years running in the World Series of Poker tournament in Las Vegas. Last year he endured a 13 hour day of play in this tournament – an amazing accomplishment considering that at the time, his health was declining into renal failure.
Today Rick focuses his energy on maintaining a full-time job while receiving kidney dialysis four hours a day, three days a week while he waits for a kidney donor. He needs a transplant in order to live a healthy life that he shares with his wife of 30 years, Jeanine Herlacher.
Rick is one of thousands of Michigan residents waiting to live on. Their names are on lists to receive a donated organ either from a live donor or a deceased donor. Kidney, lung, heart, eye, tissue, stem cell/bone marrow – the list is long and so is the wait. In Michigan, the wait is four to five years for a kidney – Too long for many of those sustaining their lives on dialysis for several hours a day, several days each week.
“Rick’s Event came about because we wanted to increase public awareness that people are waiting to live and dying while they wait,” says Karla Huitsing, the event’s Mc. “Only 38% of Kent county citizens are signed up to be an organ donor when their life has ended. That number is the average in West Michigan overall – we want this event to start increasing those numbers. It matters to everyone.”
“I’ve only had one person come forward to be my donor since I was diagnosed. We had the same blood type and it looked hopeful. But after further testing, that donor was denied due to having high blood pressure – that donor was my wife. She was devastated,” says Rick. “And so was I. But I got on the donor list as soon as I could.”
The Herlachers were stunned to learn the wait time for a kidney donor in Michigan is up to five years. Determined to stay proactive in the process, the Herlachers learned that the waiting list for a kidney in Wisconsin is only two years as opposed to 4 or 5. The difference: more Wisconsin residents are signed up to be organ donors.
Why should it be any different in Michigan?
Huitsing, along with Rick’s wife, Jeanine, and several friends and colleagues formed the nonprofit “Give On to Live On” as a vehicle to create organ donation awareness and increase the number of donors in West Michigan. Rick’s Event, in honor of Rick Herlacher, was the first gathering for the cause.
“We had about 300 people show up,” an elated Huitsing says. “It’s amazing and it’s only or first event! It’s just proof of how organ donation touches the lives of so many people.”
The crowd gathered in a banquet room at Noto’s Restaurant on 28th Street and included transplant recipients, organ donors, waiting patients, supportive families and medical professionals from around West Michigan. Also in attendance were representatives of the Gift of Life of Michigan, the Kidney Foundation and the Eye Bank of Michigan. And while the event was not a fundraiser, but an awareness raiser, all proceeds in excess of the event production went to Gift of Life of Michigan. Perhaps more important than the proceeds was the fact that a majority of the people attending signed up to be an organ donor before the night was over.
A panel of renowned presenters spoke of the urgent need for organ donors as well as the benefits for being a living donor.
“It’s an incredible power and God’s will to give a piece of ourselves to another in order that they may survive,” says Dr. Aly Abdel-Mageed, Division Director of Pediatric Blood and Bone Marrow Transplant at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.
Supporting him on the panel was Dr. Luis Tomatis, Director of Medical Affairs for the Richard M. DeVos family, Dr. Asghar Khaghini, Co-Director of the Heart and Lung Transplant and Mechanical Circulatory Support at Spectrum Health, Dr. Daniel Borresson, Surgical Director of Kidney Transplant at Mercy Health, Oliver Hale (Chef O), two-time kidney transplant recipient and organ donation activist, and Bill Ryan, President and CEO of the Transplant Games of America.
Together their experience and testimonies painted a clear picture of the state-wide need for more organ donors of every ethnic background.
The event was success in more ways than one. By the end of the night, a woman came forward as a possible donor for Rick. “We’re in the process now of taking the first steps,” says Jeanine Herlacher. “She has the right blood type for starters, but there are many tests to go through from here before we’ll know of sure. But I’d say that’s awesome!”
What a difference one person can make. That one person can be you.
Here are some additional facts to know about organ donation in Michigan. Source Gift of Life of Michigan.
• On average, 17 Michigan residents have organ transplants every week.
• The supply of organs available doesn’t come close to meeting the demand. Michigan has more than 3,100 people on the waiting list. The number is about 120,000 nationwide.
• Organ donors can save up to eight lives and tissue donors can substantially improve life for up to 50 sick or injured people.
• Of the state’s 10 million residents, about 3.3 million are registered organ donors.