Eagle woman’s organs save lives | VailDaily.com

Eagle woman’s organs save lives

Melanie Wong
Vail, CO Colorado
Kristin Anderson/Vail DailyService dog Santana brings a stack of index cards to his owner, Mylissa Eckdahl,a few days before she passed away, April 17. Eckdahl donated her liver and two kindeys to people on the Front Range.

EAGLE, Colorado ” Eight years ago, an ambulance made its way through a winter storm and on treacherous roads to bring Eagle, Colorado resident Mylissa Eckdahl to Denver after a car accident. Earlier this month following her death, her donated organs made the same trek through a spring blizzard to save three lives.

Eckdahl, 43, an Eagle resident, died on April 17, the night a snowstorm hit the foothills, shutting down over 100 miles of Interstate 70. Eckdahl died of heart congestion and complications from her 2001 accident that left her a quadriplegic.

However, at the time of her death, three patients in Denver were waiting for critical organ transplants. Eckdahl was a registered organ donor, but the problem was getting the organs in a timely fashion and getting them down to Denver.

The weather made helicopter transport impossible, so Donor Alliance, an organ procurement organization that serves Colorado and Wyoming, sent a team by road.

“That night the weather was deteriorating and we had to make decisions quickly,” said Sue Dunn, Donor Alliance chief executive.

A member of the state travel rescue team from Summit County set off to Denver by Hummer to pick up University of Colorado hospital transplant surgeon Paul Campsen, Dunn said.

The drive took about six hours, and the Hummer returned with Campsen on the closed interstate roads, with the Colorado State Patrol leading the way through the snow.

The transplant team returned to Denver safely the next morning with the liver and two kidneys, and the operations were completed later that afternoon.

Eckdahl, a former teacher and mother of two high-school girls, was giving and very involved with helping others during her life, even after her accident. It is fitting that she was able to help others even after her death, said her mother, Donna Nemanic.

“It’s poignant that her original accident was on a day of very bad weather, and they could not bring her to Denver,” Nemanic said. “They had to drive very slowly all the way down to Denver, and in those situations, delay is always a factor. It was poignant for me that her organs too had to wait.”

Eckdahl had been an organ donor for years, even before her accident. She had discussed it with her family and felt that it was a way that her body could be of use to someone else.

“I think she felt that in the last eight years when she couldn’t use so much of her body, that it might at some time be of use to someone else,” Nemanic said. “She had a voice adaptation and a companion dog that helped her get around, but she felt her body was of not much use to her. It was almost as if the body itself was not a factor anymore in her daily life.”

Dunn said she hopes donation’s like Eckdahl’s will encourage others to register to be organ donors for the more than 1,800 people in Colorado who are waiting for organs.

“As tragic as the story is, there was just a great commitment on many people’s parts, and it’s great that she wanted to do this and help others in her death,” Dunn said.

Eckdahl was very involved in the community. She recently participated in a fundraiser for a Gypsum woman who was trying to adopt five orphans from Peru.

She also had qualifications to teach English as a second language and had been taking Spanish courses. She tutored the sons of her Spanish-speaking caregiver, and hoped to perfect her Spanish skills so she could better interact with the Hispanic community.

Even after her accident, she worked to further her education and hoped to get back into teaching, her mother said.

As an advocate for the disabled, Eckdahl was very involved with online disability groups and was always quick to offer help and advice to others with similar injuries.

She helped lobby for changes to make facilities more accessible to the disabled, and she was involved with Canine Companions, an organization that provides companion dogs for the disabled. Eckdahl had a companion dog named Santana.

“She was focused on academics, the community and her children,” her mother said. “She continues to give even if she’s gone ” she believed in that.”

More than 1,800 Coloradans are waiting for donors, and about 64 percent of Colorado drivers are registered as organ donors, said Sue Dunn, chief executive of Donor Alliance.

For more information on becoming a donor, see http://www.donatelifecolorado.org.

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or mwong@vaildaily.com.

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