Mayo Transplant Patient Travels to South Korea to Help Spread the Magic of Organ Donation

Many countries outside the U.S. don't allow organ recipients and donor families to meet, but a Mayo patient's trip to South Korea may help change that country's views on such meetings.

It's not uncommon for transplant recipients to want to meet those who helped make their life-saving transplants possible. In fact, we've written about just how powerful such meetings can be time and time and time and time and time again.

In countries outside of the U.S., however, meetings between organ recipient and organ donor aren't possible, or even allowed by law. For example, in South Korea organ recipients can contact and correspond with donor families in writing, but they are not allowed to meet face-to-face.

Those times, however, may be a changing.' We're told the director of the Korean Organ Donor Program reached out to Marcel Pincince from Donor Network of Arizona with a surprising request: would an organ transplant recipient be interested in a trip to South Korea to promote organ donation. Along the way, that person could help change the country's stance on organ recipient-donor meetings?

Pincince's first call, we're told, was to Bev Hansen, head of Transplant Social Work at Mayo Clinic's Arizona campus to see if she had anyone in mind. After looking through her files, one name stood out: 23-year-old Kim Flores, whose Type 1 diabetes had necessitated a dual kidney and pancreas transplant in 2016. Her transplant was made possible by a deceased female organ donor who was originally from South Korea. When asked about her interest, Kim didn't hesitate. "I said yes immediately," she tells us. "I didn't even have to think about it. I wanted a chance to thank my donor's family."

Kim got that chance and more when she sat down with the mother of her kidney and pancreas donor for an emotional story by South Korea's KakaoTV. "It was so nice to meet her mom," Kim says. "She told me I reminded her of her daughter, which I didn't expect to hear."

In addition to meeting her donor's family, Kim tells us her trip to South Korea included several interviews with South Korean television stations and print media outlets for stories about organ donation. She also toured a museum her donor had once visited and an island where a tree had been planted in her donor's honor. Kim says a visit to a South Korean dialysis center brought back "painful memories" of the years she spent on dialysis herself leading up to her transplant.

It remains to be seen whether Kim's trip will help open the door to more organ transplant recipients being able to meet their donor or donor's family in South Korea. But Kim tells us that at the very least, she's hoping it will inspire more people in South Korea to consider organ donation. "You are changing a person's life," she says of the decision to become an organ donor. "I'm living proof of that."

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