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  • Mrs. South Dakota Shares the Gift of Life

Published on April 15, 2011

Mrs. South Dakota Shares the Gift of Life


SIOUX FALLS (April 1, 2011) As Mrs. South Dakota, mother of four and grandmother of one, Tina Ward could look back on many “great moments” in her life to date. But none would match the moment she saw her dad walking and smiling only hours after his kidney transplant surgery. As the living donor of her dad’s new kidney, Tina knew she had shared the gift of life.

“If you have a chance to save a life, why not? It’s never a decision you would regret. It’s the best gift you can give,” Tina said.

Tina’s adoptive dad, Richard Countryman, was on dialysis due to kidney disease, and long term needed a kidney transplant to survive.

Other blood relatives were not a match, so Tina got tested without telling her dad. “I didn’t want to get his hopes up,” she said. Even though she was not related by blood, testing revealed Tina was a 98 percent match.

Tina left a poster and letter on her dad’s doorstep, rang the doorbell, and left. The poster stated “I have a gift for you,” with the word gift spelled out in kidney beans. “I wrote a letter to him about how he had always been there for me, and had chosen me for his daughter.”

“He called me a few minutes later, crying, and asking if I really wanted to this,” Tina said. “My husband and kids were 100 percent behind me, and I knew this was absolutely what I wanted to do.”

Tina had learned that healthy living kidney donors go on to live healthy lives, and normal life spans. If, in the future, she were to need a kidney transplant herself, as a living donor she would go the top of the waiting list.

The surgery took place at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center right before Father’s Day, in June of 2006. After the surgery, Tina says she was “flabbergasted” to see her dad walk into her hospital room, before she was up and walking herself. “He said, ‘I feel great!’”

Richard never suffered a setback or rejection. As the donor, Tina says her life is completely normal. “I’m on no medications. I kick-box, play volleyball and softball.” She runs a home day care, and has plenty of energy for keeping up with a houseful of preschoolers.

Nationwide, 80,000 people are on the waiting list for a kidney transplant, and 17 die each day waiting. Dr. Robert Santella, nephrologist with Avera North Central Kidney Institute, says living donation is highly encouraged. It does not harm the health of the donor, it means a shorter wait time for the recipient, and it’s a healthier and fresher organ to transplant than one from a cadaver.

“It’s a win-win for everyone,” Dr. Santella said. “Most living donors will say that it’s the best thing they’ve ever done in their life.”

Donors like Tina, who says, “I believe God’s plan brought us together for a reason. I know I was meant to do this. And each Christmas or each birthday when I see my dad, it reaffirms this.”

Organs from deceased donors save many lives as well, and anyone can potentially give the gift of life by being an organ donor. Those willing to be an organ donor should make their wishes known to loved ones, and say “yes” to organ donation on their driver’s license, state identification card, will or health care directive.