May 21, 2024

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7’s HERO: Idahoans give, receive the incredible gift of life thanks to organ donation

6 min read

April is National Donate Life Month. It was created to raise awareness about organ donation, and to encourage people to register as an organ, eye and tissue donor.

BOISE, Idaho — Sage Hegerhorst of Nampa was just six years old when she lost her life in July of 2023. She was getting ready to do what she loved most, go horseback riding. Tragically, Sage was accidentally kicked by a horse. She was rushed to St. Luke’s children’s hospital in Boise, but she never regained consciousness. 

This little girl was so incredibly loved. Her family was and still is devastated and heartbroken. In their grief, they made the incredibly generous decision to donate her organs. They wanted Sage to help save other children. They say it’s what she would have wanted. 

There was an Honor Walk for Sage through the halls of the hospital. Medical staff and family lined the halls to honor her life saving donation to others. There wasn’t a dry eye in the hospital that day. Sage’s heart, liver and kidneys were donated to save lives. 

April is National Donate Life Month. It’s dedicated to celebrating heroic donors like Sage, and raising awareness about organ, eye and tissue donation. 

There are two types of organ donation, living and deceased. They both save thousands of lives each year. 

Dr. Richard Gilroy with St. Luke’s and Intermountain Health said Sage, and her family, are true heroes. 

“That’s a terribly brave decision but an important one, because children die on waiting lists, and a degree of immortality is obtained by sharing donor organs,” Gilroy said. “They live on for the life of the individuals they donate to, and those individuals have an impact on other individuals, so in a way their souls live on forever.” 

Jacob Serre of Boise, 19, just had his second heart transplant. He’s still recovering in the hospital at Stanford Medical Center.  

Jacob was born with a genetic heart condition. He was just a baby when he was diagnosed with Familial Dilated Cardiomyopathy, a genetic form of heart disease. He had his first transplant in 2021. His body rejected that heart in 2024. He just recently underwent his second life-saving transplant, and he’s had several medical complications including a stroke. Things are finally looking up for this heart warrior. 

“We are about seven weeks post-transplant, and Jacob’s heart is doing amazing,” said Jinjue Serre, Jacob’s mom.  

Jacob’s mom said receiving the gift of a heart twice is nothing short of a miracle. The feelings that come with it are so complicated, knowing the donor most likely died in a crisis situation, like an accident. 

“We are so grateful for the people that make the selfless decision to donate, and the loved ones that help with that decision during tragic times. Jacob wouldn’t be here without that choice, and we’re so thankful,” Serre said. 

Dr. Gilroy said thousands of people are waiting for a transplant right now. 

“Last year, 74 thousand people were listed for a transplant. Unfortunately, in contrast to that, only about 46 thousand people got that transplant,” Gilroy said. “There’s a gap there, and the only way to close that gap is by people being aware of the opportunities in donation.”  

According to the Mayo Clinic, there were more than 46,000 transplants performed in 2023 in the United States, an 8.9% increase over 2022. 

  • More than 16,000 individuals became deceased organ donors
  • More than 6,000 individuals became living organ donors
  • More than 27,000 kidney transplants were performed
  • More than 10,000 liver transplants were performed
  • More than 4,000 heart transplants were performed
  • More than 3,000 lung transplants were performed

Dr. Gilroy said so many families are faced with this end-of-life decision without knowing their loved one’s wishes. That is why talking about it now is so important. 

“It all starts with a conversation with your family, you should take the time to talk about donation,” Dr. Gilroy said. 

He added one deceased donor can save up to nine lives. 

“You can save one person with a heart transplant, you can save two people with a liver transplant, you have two lungs so you can save two people, you have an intestine so you can save someone in intestinal failure, you have kidneys that can also be used, and a pancreas,” he said. 

Living donors can donate part of their liver, or a kidney. As a hepatologist, Dr. Gilroy specializes in liver health. He often sees people who offer to donate part of their liver to a friend, or family member.  

“These individuals standing up are true heroes,”Gilroy said. “In no area is that better illustrated than in living organ donation.” 

One of those living donor heroes is Jennifer Pierce of Nampa, she’s a nurse at Saint Alphonsus. She stepped up to help a friend. 

“I met Katie ten years ago, we worked together,” Pierce said. “She was like a little sister to me. In 2015 we had our babies hours apart, our kids are almost nine now.”

Katie needed a liver transplant. Pierce stepped up right away to be tested. 

“About a year ago, she mentioned she had to look for her own living organ donor and I was her same blood type. I started the application process, flew down to Utah, did the test, passed everything.” 

Pierce was a perfect match. 

“December 15th, 2023, we had the surgery in Utah, and we came home in January,” Pierce said. “We are both back at work now, doing great, feeling good, and she’s got the rest of her life to live.” 

22-year-old Traejen Kingston has an incredible story to tell, too. 

“I was almost three when they realized something was wrong,” Kingston said.

He had FSGS, a rare and deadly form of kidney disease. His mom donated her kidney to him when he was 9, but the transplant failed. 

“Then I went on dialysis for ten years,” Traejen said.  

Traejen went on to play tennis at Ridgevue High School in Nampa, but he was always in poor health and on dialysis. In 2021, it was time to try transplanting again. This time, Kingston’s dad stepped up to donate to his son. He donated stem cells and a kidney to Traejen.

“The stem cell transplant basically put my dad’s immune system into me, so that the kidney transplant would have a high success rate, which I was the first in the world to do,” Kingston said. “It worked.” 

He is so grateful to his parents for giving him his life back. 

“I owe so much to my parents, they did whatever it took to save me,” he said. “Now, we just like to joke around because we all have just one kidney.” 

Traejen is now playing college tennis at Southern Virgina University and living his best life. 

Dr. Gilroy says these amazing organ donors are giving the gift of life, and the recipients could not be more grateful for that.   

“What we see here is the Idaho community in donation are incredibly generous,” Gilroy said. “It’s life changing for these patients who have little to no quality of life on wait lists.” 

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