January 6, 2023
It started with an itch. For two years, Karen Mattox was fatigued and uncomfortable. She went to the doctor and tried every lotion, cream and concoction thought to treat skin conditions. Nothing worked.
Eventually, Karen was diagnosed with two liver conditions—primary biliary cholangitis (PBC) and autoimmune hepatitis—and prescribed medications that controlled her symptoms for nearly 12 years.
On July 4, 2020, Karen began retaining fluid. She chalked it up to humid weather and fourth of July festivities but woke up the next day feeling the same.
She learned she was in early organ failure and over the next several weeks, things went from bad to worse. Karen underwent a battery of tests and was placed on the transplant waiting list. Her liver function deteriorated so rapidly that she was made a priority for transplant.
On September 19, Karen received the gift of life.
”I constantly think about my donor and their family,” Karen said. “It is a strange feeling carrying around a part of someone who you know nothing about yet love and admire like crazy!”
Karen’s journey with donation and transplantation didn’t start with her own transplant.
When Karen was in middle school, a friend of the family received a kidney transplant. That was when Karen first realized the importance of organ and tissue donation.
It struck her again 10 years ago when her nephew became a donor hero following a boating accident. He saved three lives.
“I know how my donor’s family felt,” Karen said. “We had felt the same way. Such a bittersweet moment knowing that your loved one will pass, but others will live.”
Karen recently joined Live On Nebraska as a donation coordinator, communicating with hospitals and other partners at the time of an individual’s passing, and working one-on-one with families to coordinate tissue donation.
“I have really started living since my transplant,” said Karen. “I want to grow as an advocate and learn more about all aspects of donation. I feel like I can really connect on a personal level with the families that I will be working with.”
Betsy Hofman also joined Live On Nebraska as a donation coordinator before moving to the Quality team.
In her role as a donation coordinator, she spoke with families about tissue donation and how it provides healing to people of all ages.
Last year her nephew Carsen received one of those healing gifts.
Carsen injured the medial collateral ligament (MCL) and meniscus in his left knee in a high school football game. He tried non-surgical treatments like physical therapy without success.
To continue participation in sports and other strenuous activities, his doctors recommended reconstructive surgery including a donor tendon transplant to repair the injuries.
The surgery and transplant allowed him to return to football, golfing, hunting, and snow skiing. His summer job working with an electrician in preparation for college required him to maneuver through crawl spaces and attics. Without the tendon transplant, he likely wouldn’t have been able to meet the physical demands of the job and his chosen career path.
Betsy says she’s proud to have been a part of making tissue transplants like Carson’s possible.
“I enjoy knowing that my work contributes to the greater good of our society by lives being saved and enhanced through donation.”
Inspired by her friend’s lung transplant, Amy Schworm accepted a position with Live On Nebraska’s Tissue team nearly 10 years ago.
“I was fresh out of school with my surgical tech certification and knew I wanted to help people,” she said.
Amy soon learned that her new position would be even more meaningful when her husband shared that his son from a previous marriage, Jayden, was a donor hero. Jayden had given the lifesaving gift of heart valves.
For the next six years, Amy worked as a tissue coordinator, surgically recovering tendons, bone and the very gifts that Jayden had blessed others with.
Now Amy works with new moms coordinating birth tissue donation.
Birth tissue grafts—made from placentas that are normally discarded after birth—are used for wound healing and other surgical applications.
“It has been such a great experience to work with patients getting ready to bring life into this world,” she said. “I get to talk to patients and give them information on how their newborn baby will become someone’s hero.”
Amy’s knowledge of this type of donation and its benefits saved her aunt Susan from a leg amputation.
“Susan was dealing with a diabetic foot ulcer that was infected. She had several treatments to remove the damaged tissue, and nothing was working,” said Amy.
Her doctor recommended amputation.
Hearing the news, Amy urged her aunt to speak with her doctor about the possibility of trying birth tissue grafts.
After three months of treatment, Susan’s wound healed.
“Being able to help people is what motivates me to come to work each day,” said Amy. “I love that I am playing a big part in helping someone live a better life.”