The parents of a JPS organ donor whose generosity made possible a rare hand transplant for an Indiana farmer were united Saturday with the recipients of their son’s heart, lungs, pancreas and left kidney.
Ian Heidemann, 22, had registered as an organ and tissue donor prior to the accident that took his life in February 2012. His parents honored his wishes, and surgeons were able to recover and transplant all of his major organs, as well as his corneas and other tissue — including a hand for what remains a rare procedure. It was the first hand recovered by LifeGift, the organ procurement organization for North, Southeast and West Texas, and only the second ever donated statewide.
Robert and Janis Heidemann were introduced at a LifeGift event in Houston to heart recipient Reginald King of Houston, kidney/pancreas recipient Rachel Brownhill of Wales, UK, and lung recipient Paul Boudwin of Houston, whose son, Robert, is the Houston Rockets’ mascot and a vocal supporter of organ donation.
The Heidemanns, also dedicated LifeGift supporters, now have met nearly all of their son’s recipients. “It’s always hard going in,” said Rob Heidemann, describing the emotions that build for days in anticipation of donor-recipient reunions. “But we are always lifted up.”
Absent on Saturday but frequently in touch was the Indiana farmer who was able to undergo a hand transplant in February 2012, performed by doctors of the Kentucky-based Kleinert Kutz Hand Care Center, which is working with Department of Defense grants to advance the procedure. Ronnie Thurman and his wife, Kitty, were on their way to Florida, having brought in their crops and readied the family farm for winter. The Thurmans and Heidemanns have met before and stay in touch on Facebook. “They’re wonderful people,” Thurman said.
Thurman, 58, said his right hand doesn’t feel exactly like his own, but close enough to do most things he needs or wants to do. “The hand goes to work every day,” he said. “It’s a wonderful thing.” Thurman lost his right hand in a 2003 combine accident. “Not only do we live in a two-handed world, we live in a right-handed world,” he said. Operating a combine requires maneuvering controls firmly on the operator’s right. For the first time this summer, Thurman could use his right hand to operate them.
The summer just ended also marked Thurman’s return to the golf course. “I played this summer for the first time in 10 years,” he said.
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