By Linda Friedel, Kansas City Nursing News
Cindy Connellan continues to honor her son each time she tells her story. She meets with families and individuals to get them thinking.
“The goal is to get everybody talking about it, making decisions ahead of time so everybody knows,” Connellan, RN, BSN, Med, said.
After Connellan’s son, David, died in 2012, she became an ambassador with Midwest Transplant Network to spread the word about organ donation. David’s kidneys, lungs and corneas were donated. It’s comforting to know that David has helped in so many ways, she said.
“I am an ambassador for Midwest Transplant Network to help raise awareness of organ donation,” she said.
Connellan, a school nurse, spends weekends throughout the school year speaking to groups on behalf of with Midwest Transplant Network. She talks to service organizations, such as the Rotary Club, visitors at state fairs and to nurses and health-care professionals at hospitals and nursing schools. During the summer months, she ramps up her hours. She reminds everyone to sign their driver’s license, which puts them in the registry as an organ donor or to register with Midwest Transplant Network, a conduit between hospitals and transplant programs.
“The goal is to have families talking to one another,” she said. “It’s really difficult if you haven’t had that discussion.
It can be too much for families at the time.”
Connellan’s son was born with a rare disorder, Cornelia De Lange Syndrome, which causes severe developmental disabilities. During David’s life, Connellan was regional coordinator of the Cornelia de Lange Syndrome Foundation. People with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome can live to be middle-aged, she said. Her son lived to be 30.
“Life spans vary,” Connellan said. “As David was growing up, he was one of the older ones in the state of Kansas. There are people who live into their 40s and 50s.”
Connellan became a school nurse because of her son’s special needs, but she quickly embraced the role. She says she loves children and related to parents of children with disabilities. Parents could talk more openly with her, she said.
“There are a lot of kids with special needs,” Connellan said. “I had a special spot for them. It definitely helped with that connection.”
David was a very generous person, Connellan said. Once she knew he would not survive his brain stem herniation, Connellan inquired about organ donation. She knew he had a strong heart and lungs from all the years of moving lawns, his favorite activity, she said. He never smoked and did not drink alcohol. David was able to donate his kidneys, lungs, corneas and liver. His liver went to research to study drugs and drug interactions. His other organs went to recipients.
“There were six people affected by David directly,” Connellan said. “It’s pretty amazing. You’re happy about it.”
Connellan says being an ambassador with Midwest Transplant Network is a good fit for her. She tends to be someone who gets involved, no matter life brings, she said. During David’s life, she was regional coordinator for the Cornelia De Lange Syndrome Foundation. She is also participates in grief support groups. Before Connellan’s career in school nursing, she worked in a bone marrow transplant unit, no small coincidence, she says.
“I think that there are no coincidences,” Connellan said. “Everything happens for a reason. It is just very clear with the connections in my life that they each impacted the other.”
There are a lot people walking around that don’t know they have benefited from a donation, said Ray Gabel, community education coordinator at Midwest Transplant Network. Donors impact anything from dental implants, tissue, valves and breast reconstruction to hearts and lungs, he said.
“One organ donor can help five to 50 people,” Gabel said.
Midwest Transplant Network connects hospitals to transplant organizations to match donors and recipients.
Gabel, coordinator of the ambassador program, says Connellan has a lot to offer in terms of educating the community on organ donation, Gabel said. She has personal experience as a mother and knowledge as a nurse. She frequently speaks to nurses in continuing education programs.
“She’s able to add that personal touch,” he said. “She really helps in multiple areas.
With her nursing background she is able to answer some of the clinical things.”
She spends weekends during the academic educating the community and becomes more active during the summer months when she has more time, he said. Connellan is one of the more active ambassadors. She shares what her son’s donation has meant to her, Gabel said. Most of the ambassadors, like Connellan, are either donors or recipients. Organ and tissue donations are Plan B in health care, Gabel said. As a nurse Connellan has a strong testimony, he said.
“She is a very kind person and very passionate,” Gabel said. “(She) has a wonderful story to share about her son, the joy he brought to others. She talks about what her son did, what kind of son he was — the lives he continues to touch.”