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National Editorial & Columnists

SPRINGFIELD SPOTLIGHT: ‘I wonder what she was like’

Brother got a second chance, thanks to signed organ donor card

SPRINGFIELD – The phone call came early in the morning. It was my mother, and she was crying.

Mom didn’t weep easily.

But that day, her tears were happy ones.

A donor liver had come through for my brother, Dan, who had been atop the Mayo Clinic's transplant list for weeks.

For months, I had found myself wondering: Will this be the day he dies?

I didn’t want him to die. But I fretted. It’s hard not to. I loved him. He was my only brother. And I’d never lost someone close to me.

For years he had suffered from a rare liver disease – primary sclerosing cholangitis. Finally his liver was giving out. Death was near.

But someone else's death saved his.

A middle-aged woman in Rochester, Minnesota, died suddenly of a brain aneurysm. Sometime earlier, she'd signed an organ donor card.

That small act saved my brother's life.

On Father's Day 2004, he began his path to recovery. With the gift of a new liver, his yellowing skin returned to a healthy peach color. His weakened body regained energy.

But this isn't an "and they lived happily after" story.

I wish it were.

Cancer began to grow in his transplanted liver, and by December 2005, he was dead.

Still, some woman, whose name we will never know, gave him a year and a half that he never would have had.

My brother was not a man prone to much introspection. He was a farmer. Most things were black and white: crop yields, commodity prices, hog weights.

But when it came to the unknown woman who gave a part of herself to him, he became quiet and contemplative.

"I wonder what she was like. Did she have kids?" he said shortly before he died.

I wondered whether her family missed her as much as I would miss Dan.

We do know this much about the woman: she cared enough to give.

April is organ donor month in Illinois.

Please consider being an organ donor.

Note to readers: Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist. He works as a freelance reporter in the Springfield area and produces the podcast SuspectConvictions. He can be reached at

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