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Petition: Give Minnesotans a week off for donating an organ

Than Tibbetts poses prior to the surgery that saved his uncle. Note: The plastic kidney in this image was not removed from Tibbetts.

Than Tibbetts poses prior to the surgery that saved his uncle. Note: The plastic kidney in this image was not removed from Tibbetts.

Than Tibbetts was already thinking seriously about giving a kidney to his uncle, a longtime diabetic, whose condition had turned for the worse in 2014. 

That uncle resides way up north in Cook, Minnesota, which was also Tibbetts' hometown. The distance meant the two don't see each other often, and it wasn't until Christmas 2014 that Tibbetts reconnected with his ailing relative.

It was bad. His uncle's energy was flagging. He could barely stay awake during the holiday gathering. 

"It really hit home for me," Tibbetts says now, "that the time spent waiting for an organ donor is just absolutely miserable." 

Tibbetts was a donor match with his uncle, and in February 2015, they traveled to Mayo Clinic in Rochester for the life-saving procedure. Both surgeries went smoothly, and Tibbetts reports that his uncle is doing "wonderfully" today, compared to his condition in late 2014.

Tibbetts' uncle was one of more than 30,000 American recipients of organ donations in 2015, a record high, but one that still leaves unmet need. Another 78,000 people are on active waiting lists, and the total number in need of a healthy organ replacement could be one-and-a-half times that many. 

Tibbetts' surgery at the Mayo Clinic went smoothly, but he knows he's fortunate that was the case.

Tibbetts' surgery at the Mayo Clinic went smoothly, but he knows he's fortunate that was the case.

The experience left Tibbetts, a web developer and former journalist, curious about Minnesota's handling of the donation process. He wondered if we couldn't make it easier to encourage people to make a life-saving sacrifice. 

Tibbetts was in St. Paul two days after his surgery, and recovered at home for two weeks until he returned to work. Those two weeks came out of his earned sick time, draining his yearly allowance. After some research, Tibbetts discovered that bone-marrow donors in Minnesota are guaranteed a paid week off from work, but organ donors are not. 

The discrepancy is why he started a Change.org petition to get the state's law changed, to offer encouragement and peace of mind to potential donors. 

"If I had had complications, I would have run out of sick time and been forced to dip into our savings," Tibbetts writes. "Would an extended hospital stay have jeopardized the security of my family?"

The petition has gained more than 250 signatures in a few days, and Tibbetts has already spoken with legislators who have said they're interested in championing his issue. It's a relatively small change in state law, but a big issue for the people affected.  

Tibbetts recalls waking up the morning after his surgery to find his uncle, once so sluggish, already awake and talking. He could think clearly for the first time in two years, he said, and he hadn't slept at all the night before. His mind was racing, trying to catch up on lost time.

About his own condition that morning, Tibbetts says: "There was the usual pain and discomfort that comes with major surgery. But it was nothing like the feeling of being able to give three kids their father back."