Healthbeat 4: While 100,000+ people wait for an organ transplant, advocates push for donors

Melissa Foister’s husband died in 2020 -- but his legacy lives on through his organ donations.
Updated: Apr. 25, 2023 at 9:30 PM CDT
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SIOUX CITY (KTIV) - Check ‘Yes’ on your driver’s license -- that is the push behind Donate Life Month.

More than 100,000 people are waiting for a lifesaving donation according to the organization. Every 9 minutes, someone is added to the waiting list.

“Actually in the month of April, there have been more people in the first week of April that have signed up than a lot of time in history so it has been really good to see that. Numbers in Iowa are just a little bit higher than the national average.” John Jorgensen Iowa Donor Network

Melissa Foister lost her husband Michael in 2020. His family describes him as a selfless, helping man who literally gave the shoes off his feet once to someone in need.

“It came naturally to him. He didn’t really look for things to help people with but he would just surprise us,” said Diane Foister of her son.

When doctors asked Melissa and Michael’s parents if they would donate his organs -- they say the decision was almost immediate.

“With him always helping people, we wanted to make that decision and I discussed it with his mom and dad and with my son and we made a decision that we wanted him to continue to help,” said Melissa, Michael’s widow.

At the height of COVID, they weren’t sure if Michael would get an honor walk -- but the hospital made sure it happened.

Michael ended up donating both his kidneys, his lungs, and his liver. 184 grafts have been created from his bones and connective tissue across 13 states. The Foister family now gets letters from the Iowa Donor Network letting them know about the transplant recipients.

“Over the last two years knowing that Mike is still out there helping several, actually hundreds, of people with the donation of life has helped us with knowing that he’s still alive through others,” said Melissa.

While Michael’s death was unexpected at 40, he has inspired Melissa and others to be organ donors. They never want to stop hearing about the lives he’s helped.

Anyone can be an organ, eye, or tissue donor -- there are no restrictions or set criteria. Doctors will determine what can be harvested when the time comes.

Dr. Larry Volz with MercyOne Siouxland Medical Center urges people to lay out their wishes with their loved ones sooner than later.

”If people have had the conversation with their spouse, with their parents, with their siblings to tell them ‘Hey if this ever happened to me I want to be a donor...’ if they haven’t had that conversation, many times families will be on the fence and they will sort of implement their wishes and not the wishes of the donor,” said Dr. Volz, a general trauma surgeon.

There are various ways to become a donor. You can do it through the following:

  1. Driver’s license
  2. Hunting, fishing, or fur harvester license (Iowa DNR)
  3. Online