Organ Donation: the gift of life

There are currently more than 120,000 people on the waiting list for a life-saving organ transplant.

April is National Donate Life month.

Not a day goes by that Lori Volkman of Holmen doesn’t think of her son Corey. “Yeah, yup,” said Lori.

He was a 23 year old, “his dad died when he was 8 so Cory was my protector,” with the whole world in front of him.

“He was kind of there for everybody and had the same sense of humor as I do and kind of used that to his advantage,” said Lori.

Corey loved the outdoors, “hunting and fishing,” but ironically it’s where his dreams for the future would end.

Lori said, “he was at his grandparents house and he was helping cut firewood for the winter and a tree fell in the wrong direction and fell on Corey.”

In an instant, Lori’s world came crashing down too.

“The first phone call it was them just screaming and hollering and stuff that they were so scared.”

“It took me a long tie to realize he had died. It’s like a part of you is gone.”

Then came some news Lori wasn’t expecting. “That was a surprise.” Still in shock over Corey’s sudden death, she learned of his desire to be an organ donor.

“When I had time to really think about the fact that at, 16 probably, he saw that on his drivers license and if anything every happened, his organs should be donated and he should help others,” said Lori.

And while she had no idea of his wishes before his death, “I’m glad I didn’t have to make that decision,” she knows now exactly what it means.

Lori said, “knowing what we went through for those days and I wouldn’t have had to go through that, I don’t know if I would’ve been strong enough to make that decision.”

Nearly two years after Corey’s death, Lori gathered enough strength to pen a letter to those on the receiving end of her son’s precious gift.

On the other side of the state, in the Milwaukee suburb of Grafton, Amy and her husband Ron were among those opening that letter. It was delivered through the transplant coordinator and was only signed with a first name.

“When I was able to learn about Ron’s donor, Corey, and I was able to learn about his family, learn about him, learn a little bit about how he died, the impact of that is so emotional,” said Amy Kuecherer.

Ron and Amy were high school sweet hearts. They eventually married and had two kids, Emily and Ava, but Ron struggled a lot of his adult life with complications from diabetes.

“We had found out that he went into kidney failure because of it so that’s when he was put on a list where he needed both a kidney and pancreas transplants,” said Amy.

A year after receiving a kidney, Ron got his life-saving pancreas transplant. The organ came from Corey.

Amy said, “once he got the pancreas transplant, it was a miracle. He was able to live a wonderful productive life again. For two years he was able to be active, he was able to do things with the kids.”

Unfortunately, at the end of those two years and shortly after they received the letter from Lori, Ron passed away.

“He actually died suddenly of a pulmonary embolism so it was unrelated to his organ transplant so when he read the letter, he was fully living life and was very, very grateful for the time it gave him.”

Amy and her girls were forever grateful for the time it gave them.

“That tragic loss of her son, gave two girls, precious, precious time with their father,” said Amy.

“I was so young when he was like sick, but those two years were probably like, I created the most memories that I ever could’ve made with him,” said Ron’s daughter Emily, who is now 18.

So it’s no surprise when Emily was given a class assignment last year at Grafton High School, nearly five years after her dad’s death, she chose the importance of organ donation.

Emily said, “when I ended up doing my assignment on this, I remembered my mom telling me we had a letter so I asked her about it and she found it and that’s when I first read the letter and saw the correspondence between them.”

Emily wanted her project to hit home with her classmates so she decided to track down the identity of her dad’s donor.

With just a first name and a cause of death, she began her search on the internet. “I wanted to find a picture to put it in my power point and I think that was like the hardest. It was easier just to find out who he was, but then finding a picture was difficult.”

But eventually she did. “I started crying. I was at school, using the computers. The computer was loading and then it just like popped up and I was just like, it’s him, like that’s Corey. He’s the reason my dad was alive for two more years, that’s him.”

Emily delivered her presentation. “I got an A,” but got much more in return.

“Words can’t even describe it, he’s just like this beautiful person, like I wish I could meet him and hug him.”

Lori said, “there’s just no way to describe what that feels like that after all these years, he’s still thought about and making a difference.”

Two families forever connected by one incredible gift.

“Organ donation is so important. Every single person needs to consider being an organ donor. It is the the greatest gift that you can give to somebody,” said Amy. 

“It’s amazing. To think, there are people out there because of him,” said Lori.

It was actually a Milwaukee newspaper reporter that heard about Emily’s project and tracked down Lori to connect the two families. Emily, Amy and Lori now communicate often, but they haven’t met in person.

If you’d like to be an organ donor, go to You can sign-up to put your name on the registry in either Wisconsin or Minnesota.

The orange dot on your driver’s license means you’re registered only if you got it at the DMV after March 29, 2010 when the online donor registry was started.