Donors have touched the lives of Jenny Guzdek (left), including (from second to left), Jim Fredrick, Rose Giannini, Joe Guzdek and Gina Giannini.
Groups stress service, awareness
In a lot of ways, Jenny Guzdek didn't choose her line of work - it chose her.
She was just a teenager when her brother, Joe, became critically ill. He was in desperate need of a new kidney, which he received from a donor at the age of 21.
Less than a decade later, her brother-in-law, Jim Fredrick, who was involved in a serious motorcycle accident, required a tissue transplant to repair his mangled right knee.
A year after that, her aunt, Rose Giannini, who had lost too much blood during a hip replacement surgery, required a transfusion to restore her oxygen levels, which had fallen dangerously low.
Now 29, Guzdek serves on the front line, raising awareness and educating potential donors and donor families about the critical needs of patients who are awaiting life-saving treatments.
"From all that my family has experienced, I felt that I should be doing more to promote donor awareness and help give others the gift of life," said Guzdek, who helps coordinate events and the Wisconsin Donor Network volunteers who go out into the community to promote donor awareness. "Every day, I want to give back."
Guzdek, members of her family and others who have forged an unusual bond through shared transplant experiences will tell their stories during an event at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the BloodCenter of Wisconsin, 638 N. 18th St., the new home for the donor network and the Wisconsin Tissue Bank.
The life-saving groups are now consolidated under one roof, making it the nation's first and only organization to specialize in all four types of donation: blood, marrow, tissue and organs.
"Bringing all three organizations together, we believe we can have one common message to the public and the communities on the importance of these gifts of life," said Jackie Fredrick, president and chief executive officer of the BloodCenter, the sole supplier of blood and blood products to 55 hospitals in Wisconsin.
Of equal importance is the life-saving mission of the Wisconsin Donor Network, which is the federally designated organ procurement organization for the eastern part of the state and serves 2.3 million people in a 12-county region, from Calumet, Door, Kenosha, Manitowoc, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Outagamie, Racine, Sheboygan, Walworth, Washington and Waukesha counties.
For its part, the Wisconsin Tissue Bank recovers bone, skin, veins, tendons, heart valves and other tissue for surgical use throughout the state.
"In the long run, this consolidation will improve the donation rate, making more organs available for transplant," said physician Christopher Johnson, professor of surgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
"Having a donation-driven mission will translate into a stronger organization that can work more effectively," he said.
Also during Wednesday's event there will be the unveiling of the BloodCenter's Medical Sciences Institute, which will conduct clinical research in hematology, sickle cell anemia, and bleeding and clotting disorders, and eventually clinical trials.
"This growth at the BloodCenter, not only in organ and tissue donation but in our expansion of clinical research, allows us to serve more patients in new ways," said Jackie Fredrick, who is not related to Jim Fredrick.
Bloodcenter of Wisconsin
Mission: To advance patient care by delivering life-saving solutions grounded in unparalleled medical and scientific expertise.
Address: 638 N. 18th St. in Milwaukee, and 11 other locations throughout Wisconsin
Phone: (877) 232-4376 to set up appointment to give blood