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Donated heart recipient commemorates ‘second chance at life’ during Essentia ceremony

DULUTH, Minn. (Northern News Now) – Nearly 150,000 people are waiting for an organ donation nationwide.

In honor of April as National Donate Life Month, Essentia Health held a ceremony and seminar on Wednesday encouraging more people to become organ donors.

Tom Savurn, who attended the ceremony, had a heart attack in 2001.

“100% blockage in my left coronary,” said Savurn. “I shouldn’t have made it but it did.”

After emergency bypass surgery, Savurn’s heart was doing just enough to keep him alive.

“My energy level was little to none,” said Savurn. “I had a hard time just walking out to get the newspaper.”

In 2004, he was put on the waitlist for a new heart and six months later he got the call.

“At 60 years old I got a heart of a 24-year-old,” Savurn shared. “My donor’s mother was a registered nurse, my donor had two younger brothers and one younger sister.”

Savurn said he was lucky to meet all of them and form a bond he believes is unlike any other. He became especially close with his donor’s sister.

“She felt like a granddaughter to me,” said Savurn. “I told her, ‘Why don’t you go get your mother’s stethoscope and you can listen to your brother’s heart.’ With that we both lost it.”

Other than health or religious reasons, Essentia RN Supervisor Gina Koskie believes becoming an organ donor is one of the best decisions someone can make.

“It’s one of the greatest gifts that you can give to someone in the face of a tragic event typically,” said Koskie. “I would just encourage people to think if they had a family member that needed an organ for organ transplant.”

Every day approximately 17 people die nationwide waiting for an organ transplant so Savurn knows that 20 years ago, he was given more than a heart.

“A second chance for life and with a second chance all your priorities in life change considerably,” said Savurn. “I’ve done presentations in universities and high schools and churches. Anybody that’s willing to listen, I’ll let them know what donation is all about. It’s a good thing.”

Essentia worked with 20 patients who were organ donors in 2023.

However, there are not enough organ donors to keep up with the need in the Midwest region which includes Minnesota, North, and South Dakota.

More than 2,700 patients are waiting for organ donations and 2,300 of them are waiting for a kidney.

Age is not a factor in becoming an organ donor except minors need parental permission.

So far this year, Essentia has had seven organ donors who were able to save 15 lives.