Bill to raise awareness for organ donation advances to Senate floor

BATON ROUGE-Two local residents need vital organs to continue living fully functional lives, and an organ donation bill, named after one of the residents, aims to raise awareness of the topic.

Sen. Caleb Kleinpeter authored SB 411, also known as “Willy’s Law,” which requires the Department of Wildlife & Fisheries to notify applicants for recreational fishing and hunting licenses of the option to become organ and tissue donors.

William Mckenzie, 42, is the person the organ donation bill is named after. Mckenzie had a virus that attacked his heart 12 years ago and he has been dealing with the effects ever since.

Mckenzie has had a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) pump in his chest for the last seven years. The pump is a battery-powered pump surgically implanted in the heart to help the left ventricle pump oxygenated blood to the body. It is done for in-stage heart failure patients and is known in many cases as a bridge to transplant.

“He has been on and off the (heart transplant) list for seven years now and has not received one call for transplant,” says William’s wife, Emily Mckenzie. “Basically, he’s going to have to decline in health and be bumped up on the list, probably to receive any calls.”

Emily Mckenzie says her husband is using his second LVAD pump after the first pump, which was installed several years ago, was recalled.

“They would not be able to do another one because they almost could not get that first pump out to replace it. So his next option, his only option, is for a heart transplant,” she said.

Despite his condition, William is active with his three daughters and doing well.

Emily says the significance of Kleinpeter’s bill is that hunting and fishing licenses in Louisiana have to be renewed each year instead of every six years, like a driver’s license.

“So, in states that this has passed, they have seen the number of donors increase,” she said. “He (Kleinpeter) hopes it will increase our numbers for the state.”

Kleinpeter’s bill could affect many other Louisiana residents in situations similar to William’s, such as Stephen Williamson.

An abscess that formed on his spinal cord caused by an abscessed tooth 10 years ago paralyzed Williamson. He has been in stage 5 chronic kidney disease for nearly 10 years. He’s been on the transplant list since April 2023.

His problems worsened when his diabetes got worse. It put a strain on his kidneys. It came to a head on April 7th when he tried to get up to attend church.

“We were getting up and getting ready to go to church and I could not wake up,” he recalled. “I was sitting up, my eyes were open, but I was not there. I did not know who I was or where I was. My wife took me to the hospital and they kept me overnight.”

After that day, he was put on dialysis. He has been getting treatment at Fresenius Kidney Care.

“Emotionally, I feel great,” Williamson says. “The dialysis is working. I’m not as tired as I used to be. They have great teachers where I’m at. They’ve taught me a lot.”

Williamson has a 0+ blood type. He created a Facebook group for anyone who wants to follow his journey. Potential donors can also fill out a questionnaire on Tulane Health’s website to see if they qualify. You can also call 504-988-5344.

Kleinpeter’s bill is scheduled for a vote on the Senate floor on April 22. If the organ donation bill is signed into law, it will go into effect on August 1.

“It just goes to show that even when you are down, people are still working, God is still working in your life, and it’s pretty amazing,” Emily Mckenzie said. “People don’t want to talk about organ donation; it is a little bit morbid. You don’t think about it until it affects somebody that you know. Just some education and some awareness that a selfless decision could help so many people is great.”

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