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A little over one year ago, and less than one month after completing my last term in the Wyoming Legislature, I received the gift of a lifesaving liver transplant at the University Of Kansas School Of Medicine. Our family’s gift came from a caring Kansas individual whom I never met. My family is forever grateful for the gift and amazed to watch my health improve each day over the past year. My journey toward transplantation began at the age of 29 when I was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), a bile duct disease. While challenging, the journey was made easier with the support of family and a wonderful health care system.

My prayers go out to the 170+ Wyoming families with loved ones waiting for organ transplants, and I have been inspired to advocate for the cause here in Wyoming.

This is why I supported two bills related to organ and tissue donation this legislative session. I am delighted that the Legislature adopted, and Gov. Matt Mead signed into law, one of the bills creating a task force to investigate more proactive registry mechanisms, increasing public education, enhancing collaboration between coroners and county attorneys, and investigating other ways to facilitate the gift of life. I was saddened to see the second bill requiring mandatory education for law enforcement and coroners fail.

Let me explain why that legislation was so important to donors and recipients. Our family has seen both side of organ donation. Twenty years ago, our beautiful niece Kaity failed to make it home from college for Christmas. Unknown to us, Kaity had chosen to be an organ donor. Knowing Kaity’s warmth and kindness, that came as little surprise. While it does not relieve the permanent pain of her loss, it continues to give us joy knowing that Kaity’s gifts made a wonderful difference in the lives of as many as seven families. This is the same joy we are now experiencing.

Kaity’s gift to donate her organs and tissue after life would not have been possible had it not been for the many caring professionals that preserved and delivered her gifts to new families. Those professionals include the first responders to a horrible car crash who delivered her to the hospital where she fought for her life. Then the medical professionals that cared for her until her soul was lifted from this world. Afterward, law enforcement officers and a coroner were responsible for a final sign off to allow others access to her gifts. A transplant recovery team then lovingly cared for her gifts, making sure they remained strong and functioning. Finally, well-trained transplant teams received and carefully placed the new organs and tissues with new families. None of this happens without preparedness and training. For solid organ recipients such a me, there is no other option than transplant. If gifted organs are not recovered, many of the people on the waiting list will not survive.

We look forward to improving the transplant system in Wyoming. If you are not a donor, please consider becoming one. Speak to family members, particularly young adults first signing up to drive. If you have questions, visit organdonor.gov to find out more about organ donation. You can sign up when you renew your driver’s license or online at DonatelifeWyoming.org. Each and all of us have organs and tissues that will help others, together we can change lives.

Phil Nicholas is a former president of the Wyoming Senate and an organ transplant recipient.

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