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Tissue transplant helps Maine first responder continue her lifesaving career

June 7, 2024

Y-M-C-A. It’s fun to stay at the YMCA.

It was that catchy 1970s disco song—not the perils of rescuing people from burning buildings—that almost cost Erin Sandler her job.

Erin, a 20-year veteran of the Scarborough, Maine Fire Department, tore her ACL in 2021 dancing the YMCA.

“I felt a pop in my knee and I realized something wasn’t right,” said Erin. “I worked through it for a while because I didn’t want to be out of work. Work is important to me and I wanted to be there.”

Erin soon realized she couldn’t ignore the injury and would need surgery to repair her knee. She heard from others that her knee would never be the same and worried about what that would mean for the job she loved.

“I thought this was going to be career-ending,” Erin recalls. “Being part of my lifestyle, being part of my world, I was devastated. This is who I am. This is who I’ve been for 20 years of my life.”

During surgery, Erin received a tendon transplant from a donor in Nebraska. After six months of recovery and aggressive physical therapy, she was able to return to work.

“My knee is stronger than ever,” said Erin. “So I knew that whoever gave me that tissue was strong and that they took care of themselves.”

Erin’s donor has been in her thoughts since the day of her surgery. A year after the surgery, she began communicating with her donor’s mom and carries his memory with her through the work she does in her community.

“He’s responded to hundreds of EMS and fire calls in the state of Maine. He’s responded to water rescues in the state of Maine. He’s helped me rescue seals. He’s helped teach at the community college new firefighters and paramedics. He’s adventured with kayaking and rock hopping and rock climbing. He’s gotten to do all kinds of things.”

Every year, millions of tissue transplants are performed in the United States. By registering as a donor, you have the potential to help 100 people like Erin.



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