Dave DeBoer was a long-time VSEA activist, who worked for the Department for Children and Families in St. Albans. VSEA members may remember him from a VSEA VOICE article in 2007. Dave received a kidney donation from one of his co-workers, Janet Suker. Here’s what Dave told the VOICE at the time about Janet’s donation:
"I think that Janet’s donation is just the most wonderful thing. I’m optimistic that after the surgery, I’ll be able to go off dialysis and return to a normal life. I’ll be especially excited to be able to travel again and see my family. It’s all just so amazing!"
Rest in peace Dave.
VSEA Member Selflessly Donates Organ To Co-Worker
Supports Legislation To Provide Workers 30 Days Paid Leave To Donate
It was a day like any other at the State Office Building in St. Albans. VSEA member David DeBoer was staffing his desk as a Benefits Program Specialist for the Department for Children and Families when fellow state employee Janet Suker approached him to discuss a case she was handling, involving a client with renal disease. Although Suker has worked on another floor in the same building as a Medical Social Worker since February 2007, the two had never met. The conversation they had that day would change both their lives forever.
“In the course of discussing the case with David, I told him I was trying to get additional services for someone with renal disease, who I was worried about,” explains the 43-year-old Suker. “He told me he understood because he too had renal disease and was on the waiting list to receive a kidney transplant. I asked him what his blood type was, and he said ‘A positive’, which I told him was my blood type as well. We finished our conversation, and I went back to my desk and started thinking to myself ‘You know, if there’s a chance I can help that man, I should.’ So I went back downstairs and asked David to have the transplant people call me, and I would be tested to see if I can give him one of my kidneys. Turns out I had to call them, so I did. I did a lot of tests over the next few weeks, and it was determined that we were a match.”
“I was astounded and so was my family,” says DeBoer , 56, of Suker’s very generous offer. “This is the best holiday gift I have ever received.” The two had the surgery on December 5. The VOICE will update readers in upcoming issues on how the workers are doing.
After approaching DeBoer about donating one of her kidneys to him, Suker says she began doing a lot of research about the procedure.
“I didn’t think it would be fair to get deep into this and then find one little thing that might change my mind,” explains Suker. “And when I began reading how kidney donations have improved and saved so many people’s lives, I realized that this is something that all Vermonters should consider. Try to do what you can to help. Nowadays, you don’t necessarily have to be tissue-typed. It can be as simple as matching blood types, like with David and me. I’m hoping if people learn how easy it is to be a living donor, they might consider doing it. Just think how much it could improve someone else’s life. Ask yourself: ‘Would I go through something like this to help someone else who could die without a transplant, or whose quality of life could be improved?’ In my mind, it is definitely worth it.”
“Like me, my co-workers think that Janet’s donation is just the most wonderful thing,” adds DeBoer, a 26-year state employee. “I’m optimistic that after the surgery, I’ll be able to go off dialysis and return to a normal life. I’ll be especially excited to be able to travel again and see my family. It’s all just so amazing!”
Wants Legislation To Provide More Time For Donors
Janet Suker, her husband and two young girls have scheduled a vacation to Disney World in April 2008. Unfortunately, because she has worked for the State for less than a year, Suker’s ad hoc decision to donate a kidney means she will probably have to forego the trip. Her accumulated leave—two weeks of vacation time—will be exhausted by post-surgery rest and recuperation.
“We’re still trying to find a way to make the vacation work, but it will be tough,” says Suker. “And when I realized that I wouldn’t have any leave time—if I had the surgery—I started looking harder at what benefits other states give to employees who want to be living organ donors. I discovered that there is a federal law that awards 30 days paid leave to federal employees who choose to be living donors. I also learned that many states have adopted similar laws, but not Vermont. That’s why I’m working with several legislators to try to get a 30-day paid leave bill passed in our state. I think that by creating this safety net, more and more state employees, and Vermonters, would be encouraged to donate organs.”
“I’m not afraid to phone people, so I called Rep. Jim Condon (D-Burlington), and he agreed to draft the legislation,” says Suker. “Since then, I’ve talked with almost a dozen other legislators to try and convince them to become co-sponsors, which they did. I believe this legislation is so important that, even if I have to make calls to legislators from the recovery room, I will.”
DeBoer agrees, asking all VSEA members to “call your State representatives and urge them to support whatever bill is introduced.” He adds, “And consider organ donation too.”
Suker echoes DeBoer on the request for more VSEA members to think about donating an organ.
“Talk with your families and please just consider donation,” says Suker. “I know it’s not an easy conversation, but think about the people you could help. We all have a chance to avert an often terrible quality of life for others. Just think how it could improve someone else’s life!”
Janet Suker’s Suggested Organ Donation Information Websites
If you would like to learn more about becoming a living organ donor, here are some website’s that Janet Suker recommends:
Vermont has an online advance directive registry, wherein individuals may register end-of-life decisions. Donation decisions may be made within this registry.
The Vermont DMV makes it extremely easy to let medical personnel know that you wish to donate your organs and tissues in the event of a fatal accident. All that’s required is your signature on the designated organ donor line on the back of your driver’s license. Unlike a Uniform Donor Card, you do not need a witness to sign your driver’s license. However, you are strongly encouraged to notify family members of your wishes. When signing your license, you must declare if you’re willing to donate all tissues (such as eyes, skin, heart valves, and cardiovascular tissue) and organs (such as kidneys, lungs, liver, and pancreas) or only a specific few.
New England Organ Bank (1-800-446-6362)
Center for Donation and Transplant (1-800-256-7811
Vermont Ethics Network (1-802- 828-2909)
National Kidney Foundation of MA, RI, NH, and VT (1-781- 278-0222)
VSEA Members Honored For Helping Procure “Living Donor” Contract Language
December 5 marked the first anniversary of VSEA member Janet Suker’s selfless donation of a kidney to fellow state employee Dave DeBoer. One year later, the two were honored by VSEA members at the December 5 VSEA Council meeting.
If you don’t remember, Suker donated her kidney to DeBoer in December 2007 after a chance meeting between the two employees earlier in the year. Suker and DeBoer had worked in the same office building for years but did not know each other. However, after meeting one day about a work issue, Suker learned of DeBoer’s need for a new kidney, asked him his blood type (which was also hers) and offered him one of her kidneys.
While contemplating her decision to donate a kidney to DeBoer, Suker discovered that, unlike the federal government and many states across the country, Vermont did not have a law that grants employees 30 days paid leave to be living organ donors. This was important to her because, as a relatively new state employee, Suker had just two weeks of leave on the books, and her doctors were recommending she take a full 30 days to recuperate. Because Vermont did not have the law at the time of her donation, Suker returned to work after just 12 days.
“When I learned that Vermont did not have this 30-day, paid-leave law, I asked Dave and VSEA to help me get the law passed here,” explained Suker. “And thanks to everyone’s efforts, we succeeded!”
At the December 5, 2008, VSEA Council meeting, VSEA First Vice President Bob Hooper presented Suker and DeBoer with framed copies of the contract’s side letter that grants state employees 30 days paid leave to be living organ donors. VSEA President Harkness and Governor Douglas also added personal notes of thanks on the letters.
WCAX reporter Kristin Carlson also attended the VSEA Council ceremony to honor Suker and DeBoer. She reported on the side letter presentation and included an update on the pair’s progress. It was a nice follow-up to Carlson’s December 2007, three-part “Gift of Life” series that chronicled Suker and DeBoer’s organ donation surgery and their fight to enact a 30-day, paid-leave law here in Vermont.
VSEA is happy to report that both Suker and DeBoer are doing fine.