Grand Forks woman pleads for organ donation and celebrates her 99-year-old liver – InForum

GRAND FORKS — Sally Jacobson celebrated a birthday last month, but it wasn’t for herself. It was for his liver.

On April 23, 2006, Jacobson – then 61 years old – underwent a liver transplant. The organ comes from an 82-year-old donor.

Now 99 years old, the transplanted liver is still doing well. For several years, Jacobson has been doing everything she can to get people to “check the box” when it comes to organ donation, regardless of age.

“All I’m doing is honoring all the donors and urging people to check the box,” said Jacobson, who turns 78 in a few weeks.

Deciding to be an organ donor is easy. It starts at the local driver’s license office – when people come back to renew their license they can take it for granted that the authorization to be a donor is retained. It’s not, and it’s one of Jacobson’s main talking points when she speaks publicly about organ donation.

“You have to do it every time,” she says.

And Jacobson moves to talk. Most recently, she accompanied Mayor Brandon Bochenski to area high schools to speak to students about being organ donors. They also hit other locations in Grand Forks, including Altru Hospital and the Department of Motor Vehicles. For Jacobson, tours are all about spreading the word: check the box.

In recognition of Jacobson’s efforts, Bochenski signed a proclamation dedicating April 2022 as Gift of Life Month, a local nod to national nonprofit organization LifeSource, which coined April as National Giving Month. of life in 2003.

In 2005, Jacobson noted that his health was starting to change. She felt increasingly tired, but wanted to continue working at a local insurance agency, where she had just received a promotion. His condition worsened over the months – at one point several liters of fluid were removed from his chest cavity at Altru Hospital. Her local healthcare team sent her to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Eventually, she learned she had chronic autoimmune hepatitis, which in turn caused cirrhosis of the liver. She was placed on the transplant list and told she only had weeks to live when her doctor informed her that a liver was available. The only thing: it was from an 82-year-old man.

Jacobson said she didn’t wait to decide. She told her doctor – the only surgeon in the country at the time who would transplant older organs – that she would accept the liver even though the results of the operation at the time were unclear.

“He said it might give me a few years,” Jacobson said. “Here I am at 16!

According to Kamrin Macki, a gastroenterology nurse practitioner at Altru and a member of Jacobson’s care team, transplanting older organs or organs affected by a medical condition is now more common. Surgeons can transplant a liver with hepatitis C, for example, because the disease can be treated after the operation.

“Transplants have definitely evolved,” she said.

In 2021, about seven patients in the region underwent liver transplants, Macki said. They are sent from Altru to the Mayo Clinic or the University of Minnesota Medical Center. Patients can wait on the list for years before being matched with a liver – priority depends on the patient’s condition, based on their End-Stage Liver Disease Model score.

The three main liver transplant diagnoses in the region are alcohol-related cirrhosis, hepatitis C and fatty liver disease, Macki said. The latter disease is expected to become the leading cause of liver transplants by 2024, and Macki expressed concern about increasing wait times for organs.

This means people need to take care of their liver by moderating their alcohol intake, exercising regularly, and eating well and avoiding processed foods. Macki said she recommends the Mediterranean diet, a diet based on whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits and nuts.

Awareness efforts

Over the years, Jacobson has worked to raise awareness about organ donation. In 2012, she received the LifeSource Volunteer of the Year award for her efforts. She speaks wherever she can, in schools, churches and elsewhere, and she introduced her transplant surgeon at a medical conference one year – he told her he wanted to see her when her liver was 100 years old.

In 2014, Jacobson helped raise $30,000 for Altru Health System’s Our Living Legacy Donor Wall, a structure that commemorates people who have donated organs. She spoke at the dedication of the wall, a particularly poignant moment for her, as her granddaughter, who died in infancy, is commemorated there.

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, which has temporarily shut down in-person events, she’s turned to Zoom, the online meeting software so many people are familiar with.

As well as urging people to tell family members about their wishes to be an organ donor, she stays on topic with those she meets: “One of my main messages is that you you’re not too old to be a donor,” she said.

According to LifeSource, in the first quarter of this year, 2,978 people were on a waiting list for organ transplants in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. Of these, more than 2,500 people are waiting for livers. Nationally, more than 106,000 people are on the list, with more than 89,000 people in need of a liver.

Residents of North Dakota and Minnesota can indicate that they wish to be an organ donor when they obtain a driver’s license or national identification card, or when they renew these documents.

In North Dakota, registration to become a donor can be done online at

In Minnesota, people can register online at

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