‘I owe them my life’
By ANDREW MCGINN
For the mother from Mediapolis whose son was taken entirely too early, it was a chance for her to be close again to just a small part of him.
For Kris Kaufman, of Paton, it was a chance at long last to say thank you for allowing their son’s liver to live on in somebody else’s body.
“I was so grateful to meet them,” Kaufman said. “I owe them my life. That’s all there is to it.”
Organ recipients rarely get to meet their donors, Kaufman explained last week, which made the Aug. 13 meeting with her donor family at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics so rewarding.
“My liver was functioning at 2 percent when they took it out,” Kaufman, 64, recalled.
That was Nov. 8, 2013.
The new liver she received belonged to a 12-year-old boy killed in a hunting accident.
“I got a really great liver,” Kaufman said. “One of the two best livers they’ve ever transplanted is what they told me.”
The family of the boy donated as many of his organs as they could. The lives of four people were saved because of the donation, according to the Iowa Donor Network.
But it didn’t end there.
The boy’s mother soon wrote to Kaufman at her home west of Paton to introduce herself.
“It was just really touching,” Kaufman said.
That led to this month’s rare meeting in Iowa City with the boy’s mother and aunt. The boy’s father, Kaufman said, couldn’t bring himself to attend.
“It had to be so hard for her,” Kaufman said.
“It was an experience,” she said. “It gave me closure, too.”
Complications from a 1985 gall bladder surgery eventually resulted in cirrhosis for Kaufman, who had to retire from Farmers Cooperative in Churdan when she got too sick.
She endured 15 years of the disease before going on the transplant list in May 2013.
That fall, Kaufman was notified that a new liver awaited her in Iowa City — she and husband Mel just needed to get there within three hours.
“Pushing it from here is two hours, 55 minutes,” Kaufman said.
That first liver, however, turned out to be too big for her body.
Two and a half weeks later, the call came again. For Kaufman to live, though, a mother had to lose a son.
“My grandson looks just like her son did,” Kaufman said. “It just makes you think it was supposed to happen.”
The recent meeting inspired Kaufman to become more vocal about encouraging organ donation.
“There’s 600 people waiting for donors in Iowa City right now,” she said. “I need to start promoting this.”