BY SHARON ROZNIK • GANNETT WISCONSIN MEDIA
Tylor Joseph-Lee Smoot, who lost his lifelong battle with kidney disease, had been working with his mother, Christina Smoot-Surkamer on a campaign to promote organ donation year-round.
“One month a year isn’t enough, because people are dying while waiting for organs,” Christina said.
On display at his funeral, held Wednesday at Zacherl Funeral home, were T-shirts and bumper stickers bearing a heart-in-hands logo that carries the message: “I am a donor, are you?”
Tylor had been fighting kidney disease since birth, enduring 28 operations in his lifetime. Missing both his kidneys, the teen was on a waiting list for an organ transplant. The wait was three to five years, if a living donor didn’t come along.
In the end, Tylor refused to take any more medication, his mother said, because he grew weary of all the side effects.
“Although we tried really hard to save him, I had to tell him that it was OK — I was letting him go, ” she said.
Continuing The Fight
The Fond du Lac High School student was compassionate to those who were suffering for any reason. During his many trips to Children’s Hospital in Milwaukee, he befriended other young dialysis patients who ranged in age from 3 to 20.
“Before he died, Tylor made us promise that we would continue to fight for these children,” Christina said.
A highlight of the campaign for Tylor occurred on Aug. 7, his birthday, when he had his photo taken with U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold.
Registering to be an organ donor was made easier this year through the state’s new online system atwww.yesiwillwisconsin.com.
Currently, 54 percent of licensed drivers in the state, or 2.3 million people, have signed up to be organ donors on their license.
Martha Mallon, president of Donate Life Wisconsin, says it’s important for people who have already agreed to become organ donors on their driver’s licenses to sign up online. She says the orange dot on the license does not automatically put a person in the new database. Those who agree to become organ donors when they apply for and renew licenses in the future will be added automatically.
According to his obituary, Tylor liked music and playing his guitars and ukulele and X-Box Live. His family celebrated Christmas early, and was adopted as a family by Sigma, a local women’s charitable organization.
“They granted his last wish and brought him an electric guitar to the hospital. He started to play it right away — Metallica’s ‘Fade to Black,’ Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke on the Water.’ He loved it,” she said.
Michael Gonzalez, assistant principal at Fond du Lac High School, and school nurse Sarah Kirchhoff visited Tylor in the hospital and granted him another wish.
“He had a couple of credits left to go, but Mr. Gonzalez said Tyler could receive his high school diploma and graduate with honors on June 2,” Christina said.
As part of the effort to promote organ donation, Christina designed bumper stickers, T-shirts and handouts, with the slogan “Organ Donation Awareness Year Round.”
“This campaign will be Tylor’s legacy. At the funeral, we handed out ribbons and stickers. We can’t let Tylor’s death be in vain,” Christina said.
Tylor was born with neurogenic bladder, a condition that caused paralyzation of the bladder and damage to blood vessels in the kidneys. On Dec. 20, he came home from dialysis and couldn’t walk.
Ken Bacon, the Smoot-Surkamers’ landlord, fixed up a downstairs room so the ill teen wouldn’t have to climb the stairs.
Christina said her son chose everything for his own funeral.
“Even though Tyler was going through his own hell, when he found out he was not going to make it, he said we need to care about those who are suffering. And that’s what we are going to continue to do,” she said.
His family includes his father, Pete Albertz; three brothers, Damien, Timothy and Jake; and two sisters, Susan and Hannah.