Luke W. Onken
Transplant: Kidney from cadaver donor May 4, 1991
Hometown: Davenport, Iowa
Events: 5000 meter, 1500 meter 1500 M race walk, softball throw, three-on-three basketball.
My story: My name is Luke Onken and I have received the gift of life. On May 4, 1991, I received a kidney transplant at St. Louis University Hospital. I had been on hemodialysis for almost nine months when I got the call to come to the hospital because they had a kidney for me. This was one of the happiest days of my life. I was going to give blood before work on Friday morning, August 3, 1990. I was just 2 units short of giving 2 gallons. They deferred my because my blood pressure was high and I was anemic. They told me I should see a doctor as soon as possible. The doctor said I had a disease called IgA Nephropathy or Bergers' Disease. They said the immediate choice I needed to make was whether to receive hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis. I decided on hemodialysis and received an AV graft in my left arm. They said I should also consider transplantation as an option. I started hemodialysis on August 28, 1990. My family was very supportive. My older brother, Mark, offered to donate his kidney as soon as he heard I was in the hospital. After reading about my disease and transplants in general I made the decision to go on a waiting list. I went through the evaluation and was put on the list in October of 1990. The time I spent on dialysis opened my eyes to several things. I came to the acute realization that good health is a gift from God. I realized that I was fortunate to have the good health I had. I looked around the room and saw others who were coping with not only their disease but health care organizations, insurance companies, Medicare, Medicaid and all the other trials life can throw at you and realized that no matter how bad things were for me, there were other who had it worse. I also came to the realization that life is too short to spend 60 to 80 hours a week working to get ahead and get more money and possessions. The most important 'riches' in life are your friends and loving family members. I had been brought up in a loving Christian home but had stopped even trying to live as a Christian. Going through these experiences set me back on the right path. One very good thing that came from that time was the friendship that developed with my social worker at the dialysis center; Ms. Regina Vinson. She was very supportive and positive about my chances at successful transplantation. She helped me more that she knows. She knows how important it is for a prospective transplant recipient to have a positive attitude about being successfully treated by transplant. I received my transplant on May 4, 1991. They told me the donor was a 14-year-old girl who had died of a drug overdose. Her parents decided to give the gift of life when they were going through what must have been the worst experience of their lives. The words "thank you" can't express the extreme gratitude I feel towards them. I also thank God, for it was Him working through these people that freed me from the dialysis machine three days a week for three hours at a time. I sent them a letter of thanks shortly after the operation through my transplant coordinator but I didn't hear back from them. I wanted to let them know that I dedicated myself to doing my best to honor the gift they gave me by working hard at keeping myself in good health. To the families of those who donated I want to say, "thank you." Thank God for you.
My message to the world: Transplants work! Transplants change lives. Transplants save lives. Please consider organ donation. Talk to your family about organ donation. You can be a hero just by signing a donor card.
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