Skip navigation to main content.

From advocate to recipient: Live On employee shares connections to donation

October 8, 2021

“Dear Recipient, I hope you are doing well since your cornea transplant nearly two years ago. I think of you often and hope you are able to see your loved ones, the changing colors of the leaves, and all the colors of the rainbow.”

Just over a year ago, I finally mustered the courage to write my dad’s cornea recipient and drop the letter off in the mail. My dad, Drew, gave her the gift of sight.

Before her transplant, she spent her days in a dark room because the light hurt her eyes. Now, my dad’s cornea recipient has traveled to see her grandchildren’s wedding and has even had the chance to see her great-grandbaby born.

These are the things that bring me peace, hope and courage.

Emily Niebrugge with her dad, Drew, when she was a toddler and at her college graduation.

My dad was also able to help more than 70 other people through tissue donation. His grafts were able to heal others through breast reconstruction post mastectomy, bladder slings, abdominal wall repair and oral plastic surgery.

Nearly three years after his donation, my story comes full circle.

Two years ago, I underwent genetic testing to determine if I carry the BRCA-1 gene mutation. People who inherit harmful variants of the BRCA-1 gene have increased risks of several cancers — most notably breast and ovarian cancer.

My mom had breast cancer twice in her life — once at 29, and once again at age 40. For these reasons, my doctors decided to test me for the BRCA-1 gene mutation.

The test was positive.

This means my risk of developing breast cancer is 87 percent, and my risk of developing ovarian cancer is 50 percent.

I made the empowered decision to undergo preventative surgery to reduce my risk of developing cancer from 87 percent to 2 percent. To do this, I chose to have a preventative bilateral mastectomy.

Because of this surgery, I woke up a tissue graft recipient. My plastic surgeon used Alloderm grafts to hold my tissue expanders in place after my mastectomy. She will use more when I have my breast implants placed.

These are the same grafts my dad was able to donate three years ago.

As a Live On Nebraska employee, Emily advocated for organ and tissue donation before it became personal to her. When she tested positive for a gene mutation that has a high likelihood of developing breast cancer, she decided to undergo a preventative double mastectomy, followed by breast reconstruction. Emily received donated skin grafts as part of the reconstruction process.

Now that my journey has come full circle, I know firsthand the impact my dad made on this world. I’m so proud to be his daughter, and so grateful to my donor family for the gift they have given me. What a legacy to leave behind.

I plan to write my donor family as soon as I am able to thank them for this incredible gift and to let them know how much of a hero their loved one is.

As Live On Nebraska’s Public Outreach Coordinator, Emily spends her days educating Nebraskans about the importance of organ and tissue donation. Being a donor family member and a tissue recipient, she can attest to the healing power of donation, and encourages you to consider registering as a donor today.



Back to News & Events