Donation Decision

Mary Nachreiner's daughter Kelly saved three others' lives by her organ donation.

Mary Nachreiner's daughter Kelly saved three others' lives by her organ donation.

In December of 1999 I took sixteen-year-old Kelly, who was the middle of my three girls, to the DMV for her driver’s permit. I asked her if she was going to be an organ donor. “Why wouldn’t I?” she said. It was a proud moment for me.

We’d never dream that four weeks later we’d be honoring that decision on Kelly’s behalf. Kelly was in a car accident where she sustained a severe head injury.

On January 4, 2000, we said our final goodbyes at UW Hospital. There is nothing more devastating than losing a child. The thing that brought us light was that Kelly was an organ donor—she saved three other people’s lives and gave them life. We’ve actually met one of the recipients, and, as a result of his thankfulness, he’s a volunteer with the UW Organ Procurement Organization!

Shortly after her death there was an article in The Capital Times about Kelly’s story. A nursing student approached us about going to the legislature to share our story and promote organ donation education in schools. In May 2000, Gov. Tommy Thompson signed the Kelly Nachreiner bill into law four months after her death. The law requires all driver education programs in Wisconsin to give at least thirty minutes of instruction on organ donation.

Six years ago I joined the UW Organ Procurement Office as a community and family services specialist. I work in outreach with driver’s ed programs, educational curriculum in nursing schools and workplace partners. I also develop programs for donor families and connect donor families and recipients. I often have the opportunity to talk to students about organ donation. One thing I highlight is that Kelly was an ordinary girl that made an extraordinary decision.

All of this is a ripple effect of that one decision that Kelly made at the DMV. But I am here as her voice to honor her decision. At the end of the day, it’s all about saving lives and giving that opportunity to leave a legacy—that’s the overarching goal of our work. After all, it’s not about me; I’m just Kelly’s mom.

Shayna Miller is associate and style editor of Madison Magazine.

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