FARR WEST — In her work as a driver license examiner, Megan Shimizu has learned a lot about organ donation.
“I only have this knowledge because I work with it,” she said. “I sign up people to be donors.”
Her expertise is especially personal now.
“I never imagined myself being in that situation,” Shimizu said.
Last March, Shimizu was a healthy, active 29-year-old who liked to travel, hike and camp. Now, she undergoes dialysis nine hours a night and is on the kidney transplant list. The Farr West resident is one of about 750 Utahns waiting for organ transplants. Most of those on the list, more than 500, need a kidney.
The holiday season, said Alex McDonald of Ogden, “is a good time for people to ask themselves, if you need a transplant to live, are you willing to help others?”
McDonald is public education director for Intermountain Donor Services in Salt Lake City.
More people sign up to be donors “if we get families to talk about it,” McDonald said.
“Please let your family know your donation wishes,” he said. “At least your family then knows and they will not be left in a quandary.”
Kidney and partial liver donations save many lives, McDonald said.
Partial liver donations, usually parent to child, can have a great outcome, he said — “the liver will heal and regenerate within weeks.”
Shimizu said her older brother, Stuart, is being tested for compatibility to donate a kidney to her.
McDonald said “good samaritan” kidney donations, too, are not uncommon. A would-be donor can be evaluated and be matched up with someone on the list, or seek to direct the donation to a certain individual if there’s a match.
In the case of deceased donors, it’s a misconception that people with medical conditions or elderly people can’t donate.
“There are very few medical conditions that rule out donation,” McDonald said. “We recover organs from people with hepatitis A, B and C, heart disease and diabetes. None of those are ruled out. Please say yes and then let the doctors make the decision at the appropriate time.”
Shimizu was house-sitting one night in March.
“I woke up with my heart racing out of my chest,” she said. “I couldn’t catch my breath.”
She ended up in an emergency room. After several tests and a kidney biopsy, she was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease, immunoglobulin A nephropathy. The disease had attacked her kidneys and caused stage 5 kidney failure.
“It was mostly just a big shock at first, hard to grasp,” she said.
“I’m really close with my family,” Shimizu said. “My parents took it pretty hard. But I have accepted it now.”
She’s still able to go to work at the Utah Driver License Division office in South Ogden. To buy time while she’s waiting for a transplant, Shimizu must be hooked to a dialysis unit at her home every night.
“With dialysis it was a big change,” she said.
The machine attaches to a tube in her stomach. She has to stay in bed, but she can’t sleep well because it’s “really noisy.” She passes a lot of the time watching Netflix — she likes true-crime documentaries — and loves to read history.
Shimizu looks forward to the day she can get a kidney transplant.
“I won’t have to do dialysis any more,” she said. “We will have to monitor the new kidney for rejection, but mostly my life can go back to normal after that.”
McDonald said people can find more information about organ donation at yesutah.org.
“It could happen when you least expect it,” he said. “You might need it or know someone who needs it. It can happen to anybody.”