By Lee Filas | Daily Herald
Dona Nelson said her husband’s death this month was definitely a tragedy.
While she misses him tremendously, the Libertyville woman said she takes some solace in knowing James Nelson’s death helped saved the lives of two members of her family who received his donated organs.
Jim Nelson, 63, died after slipping on the ice and hitting his head at his construction job in Schaumburg on Jan. 19. Within a week, doctors determined his kidneys and liver were perfect matches for two relatives — her brother, Ed Geraty, and one of Jim’s distant relatives — Dona Nelson said
Geraty, 55, began kidney dialysis about a month ago. Doctors had told him that without a transplant, he would need dialysis three times a week for the rest of his life.
“We were all lining up to be tested for a match, and Jim and I were teasing each other that we would both be the ones that matched,” Dona Nelson recalled. “I figured I would be a match because I was his sister, but Jim was adamant that he would be the match. He absolutely knew it would be him.”
Before either could be tested, Jim Nelson died.
“It was just one of those strange accident that happen now and then,” she said. “Doctors did what they could to save him, but he unfortunately died.”
Officials with the Gift of Life Organ Donor Program moved quickly to match organs to patients in need.
Twelve hours after Jim’s death and during the matching process, Geraty’s name appeared on the organ donor list, he said.
“From there, things moved exceptionally fast,” Geraty said from his home in Grayslake. “Gift of Life and Loyola Medical Center asked me to come to the hospital for a dialysis treatment last Thursday and then, if everything was looking good and Jim’s kidney was deemed a match, I would be in the operating room first thing Friday morning.”
At the same time, Jim’s daughter — Dona’s stepdaughter — asked to have another distant relative tested to see if the second kidney and a portion of Jim’s liver were compatible.
Debbie DeVito, a donation coordinator for Gift of Hope who serves as a liaison at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, said no statistics were available to show how frequent a double match would be in a direct donation situation like the one the Nelsons faced.
“However, I can say it really is amazing to have two people from a single family be matched like that,” DeVito said. “It really is not a common thing.”
Geraty had the surgery Friday, Jan. 21 and was released from Loyola the following Monday, just 48 hours after receiving the kidney.
He said doctors told him the kidney is working perfectly.
“I am sitting here right now because of the gift from my brother-in-law,” he said. “Unfortunately, the gift came as a result of his death, but the organ I received is definitely a positive of the whole situation.”
Dona Nelson said she has heard through her family the second transplant also was successful.
In the end, she said, it was her brother’s illness that prompted Jim Nelson to sign the back of his driver’s license to become a donor.
“Jim would have moved heaven and Earth to help anyone he could,” Dona said. “It’s only fitting that, now, in his death, he is still helping people.”
Photo: Ed Geraty with his sister, Dona Nelson, with photos of her husband, Jim. Jim Nelson died recently and his organs were donated, including a kidney given to Ed. GILBERT R. BOUCHER II | STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER