by David Hill
There have been so many organ donations and surgeries in this family they often joke that at Christmas they don’t exchange gifts, they exchange organs.
Thirteen-year-old Miss Northwest Minnesota’s Outstanding Teen, Karleen Wilde, is using her title and experience to educate others on the importance of organ donation.
Karleen is the daughter of Sunny and Ryan Wilde of Thief River Falls.
She was just 2-years-old when her mother received her first transplanted kidney from her grandmother and was 8 years old when her dad gave her mom a kidney. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for the family. Her mom has had two other transplants, her uncle Troy Carlson had a kidney transplant, and her uncle on her father’s side received a kidney from two of his sisters along with a pancreas from a donor.
Karleen has taken these events in stride but the life-giving results of organ donation never cease to amaze her. “It’s crazy how big of an impact you can make as an organ donor,” said Karleen.
One person can save up to 60 lives through organ, eye and tissue donation.
Karleen believes so strongly in organ donation she made it her platform as Miss Northwest Outstanding Teen.
Miss Outstanding Teen is a sister program to the Miss Minnesota Scholarship Pageant and Miss America Scholarship organization. Karleen will next compete for Miss Minnesota Teen on June 16 in Minneapolis.
In addition to organ donation being her platform, Karleen is also an ambassador for LifeSource, a non-profit organization that raises awareness of organ and tissue donation throughout the states of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. As an ambassador, she makes the rounds to many events raising awareness.
Each year in Minnesota, young people apply for their first driver’s license or identity card and are presented with an opportunity to register as an organ, eye and tissue donor. To help ensure that students have the information they need to make the decision that’s best for them, state law requires that all driver’s’ education programs (public, private and commercial) include 30 minutes of instruction on organ, eye and tissue donation.
The Make Your Mark program in Minnesota is a curriculum for driver’s education classes, and Karleen has taken advantage of the program to spread the word about the importance of being an organ donor to students getting their driver’s license.
To date, Karleen has spoken to two groups in Thief River Falls, two groups in Newfolden, Red Lake Falls, Warren and quite a few other places. Wilde said she loves hearing from students who have learned something new.
People often have a lot of questions and misperceptions about organ donation. Wilde tells people that “the number one priority of the hospital after an accident or injury is to save your life.” Whether or not they are a donor is not even considered until every effort has been made to save their life.
Another important fact is that anyone can register as an organ, eye and tissue donor. Age or health should not prevent anyone from registering to be a donor. The oldest organ donor was 92.
When it comes to waiting for an organ transplant, Wilde knows that we are all created equal. Wealthy or famous individuals cannot and do not get bumped up higher on the waiting list. Factors such as blood type, body size, location, severity of illness and length of time on the waiting list are used to determine the best candidate for an organ.
In Karleen’s experience, her mother, Sunny, was on a waiting list and it seemed a match was going to be difficult to find, and then they discovered her husband, Ryan, was a match.
“It’s crazy that he met all the factors and was a match,” said Karleen. “I didn’t understand it, but was so excited.”
Karleen admits she didn’t like being the person who had to lift things, like groceries for her parents after the surgery, but in a tip of the hat to romanticism, said they are very close.
Not everyone is as fortunate as Sunny. Each day, 22 people die while waiting for a transplant.
Thousands of men, women and children in the United States are waiting for organ transplants that could save their lives. Each year, about one-third of those people receive life-saving transplants and a hope for a renewed life because of the generosity of individuals who at a time of personal grief think of others in need.
That’s why Karleen thinks it’s an important mission, and why she includes it in nearly every aspect of her life.
While Karleen may have balked a bit at lifting grocery bags, she’s not shrinking violet. She is involved in 4-H volleyball, basketball, dance, voice, guitar and track.
Her favorite activity, however, is horse riding. And she’s using her favorite activity to again help her spread the word about organ donations. This May, she’ll be joining Trails4Transplants on their trail ride to Bird Island. Since school is still in session, she’ll be joining the trail ride on weekends.
Trails4Transplants was officially formed in November of 2012. Their goal is to complete a 2,000 mile total journey over a six-year time span. This ride will conclude in 2018. Participants are passionate about saving and enhancing lives through the generous gift of organ and tissue donation.
Wilde is certainly well on her way to making the best of her teenage years to help others. We can only wonder what she may accomplish as an adult.