"Everything following the accident was such a blur," said Barb (Hempstead) Paulson, Monty's widow. "But organ donation was an easy decision once we knew Monty was gone. Even though it was a difficult time for our family, it was a way we were able to give back to others working to overcome injury or a life-threatening disease."
Each April, St. Anthony Regional Hospital, the Iowa Donor Network and thousands of organizations across the country take time to honor organ donors, their families and organ recipients through National Donate Life Month. This month-long celebration encourages community members to thank friends and neighbors whose loved ones have helped others in need and to consider registering to become an organ donor.
National Donate Life Month was instituted by Donate Life America in 2003, the same year Carroll's Monty Hempstead passed away following a single-vehicle motorcycle accident on Main Street.
Friend and neighbor Jedd Hagen, M.D, St. Anthony Pathologist and Carroll County Medical Examiner, was called to the hospital following the accident. He reinforced Barb's decision to consider organ donation, knowing Monty would have wanted to help others under any circumstance.
"I agreed 100 percent with Barb's decision," Dr. Hagen said. "It's difficult to think about organ donation under pressure, but when you come to the realization that you can do one more thing for someone, it's no longer a question. Monty was an outgoing, caring personality, and I know he would have wanted to help anyone he could."
Following the Hempstead's decision to donate, St. Anthony immediately took action. The hospital contacted the Iowa Donor Network, who sent a team to Carroll to operate on Monty. The team was able to gather bone and connective tissue to assist people with orthopedic and neurosurgical conditions. Monty's generous donation offered children with severe fracture and bone cancer a second chance, and adults with degenerative bone and joint diseases increased mobility and decreased pain. Skin donations also aided burn victims and reconstruction for those suffering a disfiguring injury. In all, Monty's donation impacted over 100 lives.
"St. Anthony and the Iowa Donor Network walked me through the entire process," Barb said. "The hospital also reached out to our pastor, family and friends. I don't even know who does all of that, but it was just taken care of. The compassion shown by the hospital and community was truly amazing."
Barb shares that she and Monty had never discussed organ donation, but encourages others to have the conversation with their loved ones.
"We were so busy raising our children that we never discussed organ donation – for either of us," Barb said. "So I was forced to make a quick decision. I would do it all again, but it's an important topic to visit about before a life changing event occurs. Knowing what your loved one's wishes are can provide clarity during the most difficult of times."
Dr. Hagen agrees that family discussions should take place sooner rather than later.
"It's difficult to fully understand the outcome of organ donation if you haven't been or met a recipient," Dr. Hagen said. "Once you meet a recipient from the program, you experience their thankfulness and joy. It's a tremendous feeling to know that someone gave a gift so great, so that others could live."
For more information on becoming an organ donor, visit www.iowadonornetwork.org.