March 4 will be a miracle day. That’s what Kim Strubberg, executive director of the Franklin County Area United Way, said about Thursday, which she’s been eagerly awaiting for three months. She will wake at about 4 a.m. that day and travel with her brother to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. There, she’ll meet up with Clay Hagedorn and his wife, Debbie. Then Strubberg and Clay Hagedorn will dress in crisp hospital gowns and go to separate but adjacent rooms. When they emerge some four hours later, they will be connected for life, and there will be one fewer person on the 100,000-plus-name list of people in the U.S. awaiting a life-saving organ transplant.
“I get to take a four-hour nap, and Clay gets to wake up with a new lease on life,” Strubberg said.
Strubberg, 59, will donate a kidney to Hagedorn, 52. She had never met Hagedorn, who lives in Springfield, Illinois, but she worked with his mother, Ruth, for about a decade at the United Way. Ruth Hagedorn told Strubberg when her son first started having kidney problems and when he went on dialysis for around nine hours per day. Strubberg shared the family’s joy when a donor offered their kidney to Clay Hagedorn with a surgery scheduled for August 2020 and shared their heartbreak when, at the last moment, the donor didn’t pass one of the matching tests, and the donation was called off.
“Kim’s been in on this whole thing from the start,” Ruth Hagedorn said. “Somehow God put her in the right place at the right time. It’s just been really something.”
Strubberg said she had no hesitations getting tested. She first learned that she and Clay Hagedorn had the same blood type — about a three in 10 chance — and then passed several other medical exams, which included taking 14 vials of blood, as well as a counseling session. On Jan. 26, she got a call that she’d passed every test to donate her kidney.
“I just have a heart drawn (on that day) on my piece of paper,” she said. “I would be lying if I said I wasn’t scared sometimes, but God has had his hands all over this.”
On Feb. 17, Strubberg and her daughter met Clay and Debbie Hagedorn in person for the first time at Barnes-Jewish. Strubberg said she was shaken and humbled to meet Clay Hagedorn, who has three children and three step-children.
“You don’t realize how important it is for people to think about being donors until you’re faced with it in your family,” Ruth Hagedorn said. “It is giving a life to someone.”
According to the American Transplant Foundation, about 20 people die each day in the country because of the lack of available organs for transplant, and another name is added to the national transplant waitlist about every 10 minutes. In Missouri, there are 1,224 people awaiting a transplant, with 1,044 awaiting a kidney. Living organ donors can donate one kidney, one lung and portions of the liver, pancreas and intestines. Hearts can be donated posthumously.
Strubberg said she debated whether to share the donation with her friends and family, but she hopes the news will encourage others to join the donor registry or even consider a living donation.
“I didn’t do it for any recognition,” she said. “At first I was very hesitant to be public about it, but if one person signs their donor card on their driver’s license, then it’s totally worth it.”
On Sunday, those friends and family surprised Strubberg with a drive-by parade at her home. She arrived home from a pedicure to find her daughter and daughter’s fiance had arrived to “take her out to eat.”
“She said ‘Mom, come outside, I have a surprise for you,’ ” she said, “and I’m looking down; I’m in flip-flops and still have on those little things they put between your toes while they dry. Then I turned around.”
A police escort and a line of more than 20 cars of family and friends greeted her. There were signs, confetti, beads and candy.
“I was totally blown away, and I still am,” she said. “I was totally surprised.”
Each person offered Strubberg well wishes for the procedure. In one of the cars was Ruth Hagedorn, whom Strubberg hadn’t seen in-person since before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Needless to say, we were both crying,” Strubberg said. “I can’t even explain how humbling this has been. I’m just thankful I get to do it.”
You can register to become an organ donor at donatelifemissouri.org.