2016 Transplant Games Athlete — Kim Burdakin

Liver Recipient Advocates for the Importance of Organ Donation

Kim Burdakin Transplant GamesMay 7, 2000, is a day Kim Burdakin of Muscatine, Iowa, will never forget. May 7 marks the day Kim was given a second chance at life.

When Kim woke up one Saturday morning in April 2000, she felt nauseous, confused, and unable to drive. Her mother drove her to their local health care clinic where doctors knew immediately that something was seriously wrong.

After a series of tests it was determined that Kim had acute liver failure—a rare disease where the liver loses function quite rapidly. Doctors later discovered that Kim's liver failed due to a bad reaction to a prescription medication.

In many cases, as in Kim's, liver transplantation is the only cure.

Waiting for a Transplant

On April 22, 2000, Kim was placed on the transplant waiting list, but unfortunately, her health continued to deteriorate over the next two weeks as she waited for a donor liver.

Michael Voigt, MD, former director of the Liver Transplant Services at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, says liver patients waiting for transplant are some of the sickest patients he sees.

"Patients waiting for a liver transplant are extremely weak and have a very low blood pressure. Their liver has stopped functioning, thereby removing the body's ability to detoxify the blood and regulate blood clotting," Voigt says.

Kim's sister, Kay LaRue, was prepared to donate a portion of her liver to Kim in the event a full liver did not become available. The liver is the only organ in the body that can partially regenerate. In extremely critical situations, a portion of a liver from a living compatible donor may be considered for transplant. However, Kim's doctors were fearful that the portion of her sister's liver wouldn't regenerate quickly enough to save Kim's life.

By May 6, Kim had become so ill that she wasn't expected to survive.

Kim and Kay were rushed into surgery. Neither sister knew that soon after they were put under anesthesia, a liver became available in Michigan.

Kim was kept under anesthesia while the UI team went to retrieve her liver and perform the transplant.

A New Liver and a New Lease on Life

Voigt finds it miraculous how patients like Kim become healthy again after their transplant.

"It's amazing being able to see people and manage them through this period of incredible illness and see what a wonderful life they live after transplant," Voigt says.

Kim still remembers the day she walked from her hospital room to the nurse's station after receiving her transplant, and how proud she was of her accomplishment. Now she participates in 5Ks, and she was able to watch both of her daughters graduate high school and college, and later get married.

Raising Awareness for an Incredible Gift

Today, Kim spends her time actively promoting organ donation. She volunteers for the Iowa Donor Network, holds fundraisers, visits schools and community groups to speak on the topic of organ donation, and encourages people to register on their driver's licenses to become organ donors.

Kim wants people to know that organ donation is a positive experience.

"If the very last thing you did in your life was give life to someone else, I can't imagine a better gift you could leave as your legacy," Kim says.

This year, Kim participated in the 2016 Transplant Games, held June 10-15 in Cleveland, Ohio. She had the honor of meeting her liver donor's family at a previous Transplant Games, and this year she looked forward to getting to know the other members of team Iowa.

Learn more about organ donation and the UI Organ Transplant Center today.