GIFT OF LIFE: Organ Donation Helps Two Families Heal

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It's a waiting game that affects hundreds of Iowans every year, those waiting for an organ donation.

But it’s also an emotional roll-a-coaster for families who have to make the decision whether or not to donate.

From the beginning Tanner Ruberg was a miracle.

“Our daughter is nine years older than Tanner and we were told I couldn`t have any more kids so we have resigned ourselves to the fact we were just going to have one,” says Deb Ruberg of Hardy.

After years of trying Deb and Ronnie had a son, a son who from a young age had a passion for sports.

“He was a very, very athletic child, four sports, he did basketball, football, baseball, track,” says Ruberg.

Tanner also enjoyed snowmobiling, and just nine days after his 17th birthday his parents got a call no parent ever expects.

“A little after seven we got the phone call to come to the hospital, it was bad, it`s really bad,” says Ruberg.

Tanner was in a snowmobiling accident and was on life-support.

Doctors at the hospital in Humbolt said he wasn't going to make it, but his parents couldn't accept that.

“He`s our baby, you don`t give up on your baby,” says Ruberg.

Tanner was transported to Methodist in Des Moines, where doctors agreed nothing could be done.

But then the Ruberg's had to make the difficult decision on whether or not to donate their son’s organs.

“I knew in my heart of hearts he would be okay with it but there was also that part of me that was like what if we made the wrong decision,” says Ruberg.

The Ruberg's decided to donated Tanner’s, heart, liver and both kidneys, and then doctors asked them if they wanted to donate Tanner's tendons and ligaments too.

At first I was saying no and then I said well what do they do with them anyway and they said they go to help injured athletes and I think Lonnie and I looked at each other at the exact same moment and said yes, if it could help athletes, Tanner would definitely want that,” says Ruberg.

According to the Iowa Donor Network, 46 percent of the U.S. population is registered as an organ donor, in Iowa that number jumps to 76 percent, ranking Iowa 4th in the nation for registered donors.

And it's because of those donors that celebrations like this can happen.

Methodist held its annual “Tree of Life Celebration” honoring those on both sides of an organ donation.

“One thing I really felt was a feeling of humbleness when I thought about my donor and donor family,
says Tom Fredericksen of Des Moines.

Fredericksen received a liver last June, a transplant that gave him a second lease on life.

“I was just thankful and humbled by the fact that my donor family made a terrible decision like that to do that, it saved my life because I don`t know if I’d be here today if I wouldn`t have had a liver transplant,” says Fredericksen.

But there are still hundreds hoping to be as lucky as Fredericksen.

Nearly 600 Iowans are waiting for a transplant, 83 percent of those need a kidney, but some never make it, and annually around 30 people die in Iowa waiting for an organ that never becomes available.

That's why both families agree, organ donation, while tough to talk about needs to be discussed.

For Fredericksen it gave him an opportunity to watch his kids and grandkids grow up.

“I had to get a liver transplant to keep up with all of them,” says Fredericksen

For the Ruberg's an opportunity to help other families and let Tanner's life and legacy continue on.

“I wouldn`t give up a moment of the 17 years we had with him, I’d give anything to have him back but the 17 years we had with him were precious,” says Ruberg.

Tanner saved four people's lives with his organ donation, and helped dozens of athletes recover from injuries from the tendons and ligaments that were donated.

In Iowa it's easy to register to become an organ donor, you just have to check yes when signing up or renewing your driver's license.

Parents can register their children by going to