BROOKLYN, Mich. (June 17, 2011) – Chris Heroy, lead engineer on the No. 5 GoDaddy.com team, always called his dad, Mike, on Father’s Day. They would joke and tell old stories, but because of a busy NASCAR schedule and the distance between them, the phone calls had to suffice.
This Sunday will be different.
Six months after nearly losing Mike to kidney failure, Chris will celebrate with his father and brother Andy at Michigan International Speedway. But rather than raising a glass, the three will be stressing the importance of organ donors and how the University of Michigan transplant center saved Mike’s life.
Nearly two years ago, Mike, who had lived with diabetes for several years, found out he would need a kidney transplant after fluid accumulated in his legs. It was then that the Heroy family began the process of determining the best match within the family. And for Chris and Andy, being an organ donor went from simply “a good thing to do” to a way of saving their father’s life.
“There was a lot of communicating within the family,” Chris said. “We all took blood tests and sent them off, and it was determined that myself, my brother Andy, who eventually gave the kidney, and my sister were all really good matches. Andy and I were perfect matches to each other, and to dad. My sister was a great match, and a match anyone would have taken off a kidney donor tree. But Andy and I were perfect.
“My brother really wanted to do it. He was super passionate about it and was in a good situation. He really stepped up. With my schedule in NASCAR, it was really hard, and I busted my knee over the winter, so all signs were pointing to Andy. So now I’m Andy’s backup. He’s got one kidney left, so if that one goes down, I owe him a kidney.”
On Jan. 12, 2011, Mike had the surgery at his alma mater, the University of Michigan. Six months later, the Heroys will celebrate an emotional and even more symbolic Father’s Day together at Michigan International Speedway. Before Chris takes to the pit box for Sunday’s race, he will join Mike, Andy and the doctors who performed the surgery for a press conference.
Chris says his father is doing well with his new kidney and has made significant lifestyle changes to better his health. Most importantly, his father is back doing what he loves -- going to work and playing with his old cars.
Prior to his father’s need for a new kidney, Chris had never considered the impact that being an organ donor can have on others. After witnessing first-hand how organ donors can save lives, Chris now stresses the importance of people participating with their state organ donor registry.
“I signed up for it on my license when I was 16 because I thought it was a good thing to do,” Heroy said. “But when you get into how organ donation works and the networks that are out there and the amount of people that do it, it is incredible. It definitely saves a lot of lives, and it’s a difficult thing to get right. I gained a lot of respect for the process throughout all this.”
In the United States, more than 100,000 people are currently on the waiting list for an organ transplant, and thousands of new patients are added to the waiting list each month. The unfortunate reality is that 18 people will die each day waiting for an organ. However, the good news is that almost anyone, at any age, can be an organ donor.
“Being an organ donor is an incredible gift,” Chris said. “It’s not a simple process. My family was a best-case scenario with having a live donor that was ready to go, willing and healthy. That’s not the norm; it is really a rarity. That is the thing that people need to see.
“Funding research and getting it to a point where you can get artificial or less-than-perfect kidneys to work, that’s the real benefit to society and people that are ill -- expanding what the possibilities are. The more focus and more money we can put behind these programs will really help those who don’t have perfect situations like my family.”
To learn more about becoming an organ donor please visit www.organdonor.gov.