The Organ Trail: Central Wisconsin man goes on kidney donation journey
By Kris Leonhardt
WISCONSIN RAPIDS – A Plover man began a kidney donation journey on Sept. 19 that will progress through the heart of the country.
The journey for Mark Scotch, 64, originated earlier this year in Louisiana, and will ultimately end in the same place, after promoting organ donation and providing for a recipient he met in a chance encounter.
A chance encounter
“Mark and I are retired, and we have a travel trailer and we head south usually end of January, first part of February. The last couple of years it’s been cold enough, instead of heading west, we head straight south and then head west,” explained Marks’ wife, Lynn.
“We had gotten as far as a small town called Natchitoches, Louisiana, and (Mark) has a little side job in retirement where he sells hops for a cranberry farmer out of Nekoosa, who a few years ago took 20 acres out of cranberry and put hops in.
“Mark does this when we travel. He takes hops samples along, and we stop into small brew pubs and brewery operations.
While in Natchitoches, Mark was visiting a brewer.
“He was sitting at the bar and there was one other guy in there, and after he met with the brewer, he started talking to this guy,” Lynn recalled.
When the man got up to leave, Mark invited him to stay for another drink, but the man explained that he needed to get home for dialysis.
“He didn’t look like he had any health issues or anything, and he was just a really friendly, positive guy. We both immediately just liked him,” Lynn added.
The man, Hugh Smith, a 56-year-old retired horse jockey, explained that he does dialysis at home every night – 10 hours a night – and was in Stage 5 renal failure. He explained that he was on the transplant list, but doctors said it would be a really long time before he had priority “because he wasn’t sick enough.”
“Mark said, ‘If you need a kidney, I’ll give you one,’” Lynn recalled.
A few stumbling blocks
Lynn and Mark began doing research. With Mark being heavy into ultra endurance events, Lynn added that he had some concerns if he would be able to participate following surgery.
Once he had reassurance on this, Mark was ready to move forward, and then COVID-19 threw out a few stumbling blocks.
“Things got kind of tangled up,” Lynn said. “Hugh had some bumps on his end also and switched transplant centers, so that he would be at a transplant center that was in the same network as UW-Madison. The two transplant centers on his end didn’t really communicate in a timely basis. Hugh’s information didn’t get into the national registry until Mark’s information was already in there, and they went ahead and ran the match.
“The chances that he would have been the perfect match for Hugh, I think about 30 percent is what I’ve heard for likelihood.”
The voucher program
Mark will now become a “voucher donor,” where his kidney will be matched with a highly compatible recipient somewhere in the country. He will donate the kidney at UW Health University Hospital. He will then identify Hugh as the person he wants to benefit, which will move him up on the National Kidney Register, giving him a higher priority.
“So, he will get priority by virtue of his voucher that he gets, and that will give him priority, and then the next best match that comes up – hopefully that is within a relatively short period of time – then that surgery will take place,” Lynn explained.
Depending on the recipient’s wishes, Mark may never learn who received his kidney.
The voucher program is also referred to as advanced donation, where a paired exchange may be separated by time. A national registry example of this involves a 64-year-old grandparent wishing to donate to a grandchild who has been diagnosed with kidney disease and may require a transplant in 15 years. By that time, the grandparent will be too old and will not be able to donate. The grandparent is able to donate now to a recipient, and the voucher will provide for the grandchild when he is in need of a kidney.
“Once I started looking into it and realizing what kind of shortage they have, I just wanted to do something more to get word out there,” Mark said.
To raise awareness of the need for organ donors, Mark began a bicycle journey on Sept. 19 from Plover to Madison.
“We came down the Wisconsin River as close as we could down river drive,” Mark explained.
“I like to ride bike, so I decided, selfishly, that I was going to ride to Louisiana, because I wanted to go see Hugh anyway after I had surgery. So, I decided to put the ride together.”
Mark was joined by donor family members, family, and friends. They made a stop at the Central Wisconsin Gift of Life Legacy Garden in Wisconsin Rapids, and then made a stop in Portage, before heading to the Restoring Hope Transplant House in Middleton.
“They are kind of my main donation that I am asking if people want to donate financially to go there,” Mark said. “What they do is they house different families of people that are getting transplants at a very reasonable price. Most people that go through any type of transplant or kidney disease/heart disease, it is financially really rough on them. So, they just try to provide housing, while their loved one is being worked on at the hospital.”
Mark will donate a kidney in Hugh’s honor in Madison on Sept. 30.
“Next May, we are going to leave after my surgery,” Mark added. “Once the weather gets good, I am going to leave from Madison and finish the trip to my voucher recipient’s house in Louisiana. Along the way there might be people riding with me…”
“I’m going to follow the Mississippi River all of the way down. Back roads, back streets, just take our time.”
For more information on Mark’s ride, find “The Organ Trail” on Facebook. For more information on organ donation, visit www.donortodonor.net.