News: Organ Donation is a Gift of Life

January 12, 2021

Leslie Becker and family

Two mothers at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Carlisle experienced heartache and grace as they journeyed through the process of organ transplantation.

Because of their experience, they encourage others to consider being organ donors.

Three years ago, Stacy and Jeff Henkelman’s oldest son, Jake, died of a traumatic brain injury.

Jake had wanted to have his organs donated to those who needed them and had it indicated on his driver’s license.

“Even though we wanted to do it, it was still hard,” said Stacy. Yet, “It was absolutely the right decision.  I would do it again.”

A faith formation leader at her parish for about 10 years, Stacy found herself thinking back to the advice she had given her sons.

"We always told the boys, if you leave this house with nothing more than the love for the Lord, then we’ve done our job,” she said.

She relies on her faith to cope with the sorrow and loss.

“I know Jake’s in heaven,” she said. “Jake’s with Jesus.”

Stacy and Jeff have met the people who have a kidney from Jake.

“They are like family. I can’t tell you the healing it’s been for us. It’s just incredible,” she said. “It wasn’t in the cards for Jake to stay here, but now these two people get to.”

Organ donation is “a gift of love,” Stacy said. “I’ve seen these two people with their families and their friends. They get to be here longer, and both of these two are strong in their faith, too. It’s really been a blessing and very instrumental in our healing.”

Leslie Becker, too, is grateful for organ donation.

She was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes when she was eight years old. It had been a part of her life growing up. She met her husband, Tony, in 1996, got engaged in 1997 and married a year and a half later.

“He’s been my rock going through this whole process,” she said.

A few years after her wedding, her kidneys began to fail and she was on dialysis when she learned she qualified for a transplant kidney and pancreas.

It was Oct. 4, 2004 when she received the organs.

The transplants kept her healthy and she and Tony adopted their son. He’s a huge baseball fan and summers are usually spent watching baseball games, said the proud mom.

The transplant kidney was doing well, but a few years later the pancreas began to fail. Leslie qualified for a transplant and on March 1, 2013, she received a pancreas. The donor was a 10-year-old boy who died in an accident.

Because of the heroic act of his parents, “I’m here today. If it wasn’t for transplantation, we wouldn’t have had our son. “

She stays in touch with her donor’s family.

“They’re just amazing people. That’s what organ donation does with recipients and donors. They bring families together,” she said.

Her journey was a difficult one.

“We would pray a lot. I still do. Spiritually wise, we were praying and asking God to help me through this journey. It helped a lot,” she said.

Of the number of Iowans age 18 and older, 77 percent are registered organ donors, according to the Iowa Donor Network. In 2019, the state broke a record with 92 deceased organ donors giving 290 organs for transplant.

Organ donation is acceptable in the Catholic Church. St. John Paul II affirmed organ donation as helping to build the culture of life in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life).

Leslie calls her organ transplants her rollercoaster ride.

“It’s definitely been a journey, but everybody goes through a journey,” she said. “My footsteps led me through a transplant to lead a normal life and I just keep walking down that path, keeping up that positive attitude.”

To learn how you can be an organ donor, contact the Iowa Donor Network.


What does the Catholic Church say about organ donation?

St. John Paul II: "Over and above such outstanding moments, there is an everyday heroism, made up of gestures of sharing, big or small, which build up an authentic culture of life. A particularly praiseworthy example of such gestures is the donation of organs, performed in an ethically acceptable manner, with a view to offering a chance of health and even of life itself to the sick who sometimes have no other hope." (Evangelium Vitae, #86)

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: "The transplantation of organs from living donors is morally permissible when such a donation will not sacrifice or seriously impair any essential bodily function and the anticipated benefit to the recipient is proportionate to the harm done to the donor. Furthermore, the freedom of the prospective donor must be respected, and economic advantages should not accrue to the donor. (Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, #30)