Organ transplants up partially due to COVID-19, wife says husband was proud donor

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Kansas man died from COVID-19 but donated his kidneys saving two lives in the process.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Midwest Transplant Network said it’s one of the reasons they are seeing an increase in donations.

Danny Baker, 28, was from Manhattan, Kansas but found himself in his final days at St. Luke’s on the Plaza on a ventilator. His wife, Aubrea, said he was an organ donor and would be glad to know if he had to die others could live.

In their five years together Aubrea said Danny gave her enough love to last a lifetime.

“He is just so caring. And he would do anything for me. And we loved going grocery shopping together. Just everyday things,” Baker said.

In 2021, the Bakers celebrated four years of marriage and the birth of their daughter Haylen.

“She was completely his world,” Baker said.

In August, what he thought was a sinus infection turned out to be COVID-19. Danny struggled through it and was eventually moved from Manhattan to Kansas City, Missouri and placed on a ventilator.

“I never gave up. I never thought once that he was going to pass away, I never not even once thought that at all,” Baker said.

Danny died on September 14 but his kidneys saved the lives of two people he never met.

“He was super proud of being an organ donor,” Baker said.

Partially due to the pandemic the Midwest Transplant Network said they’ve seen an increase in organ donations.

Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Lori Markham, says their success in donation rates also have to do with a growing registry, their communication and relationship with hospitals, and advancements in technology for organ preservation.

In the beginning of the pandemic, Markham said it was unclear if organs could be used for transplant at all.

“When the pandemic started almost two years ago, people who died from COVID, were not able to be donors. And that has changed,” Markham said.

She said through research, doctors were able to determine many organs could be transplanted after a person had COVID. It’s much like if someone dies as a result of influenza their organs are not affected for transplant.

However, it’s not possible to transplant lungs from a COVID-19 patient due to how the virus affects them. Each donation case is evaluated individually to see if organ donation is a possibility.

“We had a record number of organ donors in 2021, compared to the previous year, and some of that is due to the COVID,” Markham said.

In 2021 the transplant network had forty more donations than in 2020.

Baker’s kidney donation saved a 57-year-old man and a 49-year-old woman. One in the Midwest and the other on the East Coast.

“These people had been on the dialysis list for almost two years and for them to be able to get back to their normal life of not being attached to a machine and being able to live with their families and function, day to day life that’s priceless,” Baker said. “I am at peace knowing he is still with me.”

Despite having more donors during this time, the Midwest Transplant Network said the need is still great. They encourage anyone who can to become an organ donor. You can sign up online to become an organ donor in Kansas and to become an organ donor in Missouri.

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