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ENCORE: Waukee Man Gives Back After Transplant

In 2006, Ted Cochran received a kidney transplant. Five years later, he's taking his second chance at life and repaying it through his non-profit My Angel Foundation, which educates others about organ donation.

This story about Ted Cochran and My Angel Foundation has been nominated as a Greatest Person of the Day for the Huffington Post. You can find it and other Greatest Person stories from around the country here.

Aug. 29, 2006, is the day that Ted Cochran says changed his life.

It was on that day, after years of battling the effects of a childhood illness and deteriorating kidney function, that Cochran received a new kidney. His donor? His mother, Carla Cochran, 54, an emergency room nurse.

"As a nurse, throughout the years, I knew that the day would come when Ted would need a new kidney," she said. "As a nurse, I also knew how many people were on a waiting list. I know that at that time, there were 260 people on waiting list for a kidney. I knew that as a living donor, a person can live with one kidney so I said, 'Test me.' Ted's brother was also a match, but I said, 'I'm the one. Let me go forward.'"

"We know that we’re facing an uphill battle. The number of donors are not keeping up with the number of people needing transplants."

It was a happy outcome, but not where the story ends.

Ted, now 33, was so moved by the whole experience that he decided to do something for the countless others who were not as fortunate to have an angel of their own. For those people who were still waiting for their second chance at life. For those who were still waiting for a donor.

"I was blessed because I had a living donor," Ted said. "Along the journey of getting my transplant, I met so many others who were waiting so I wanted to do whatever I could to help ensure that they also received the gift of life."

Raising Awareness About Need for Organ Donors

Just six months after his transplant, Ted honored his mother and her gift by starting My Angel Foundation, a non-profit group that educates and encourages Iowans to become eye, organ or tissue donors.

"I wanted to dedicate my second chance at life by giving back and being an advocate for the very thing that saved my life — organ donation," he said.

According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, there were 11,711 donors and 23,745 transplants performed from January to October 2011. Currently, there are 112,594 people on the waiting list for transplants in the United States.

My Angel Foundation relies on an army of volunteers to get the word out about the need for organ donation. Cochran himself, and others, visit schools and businesses, hold fundraisers, host walk/run events, just about anything to get in front of people who may not already be an eye, organ or tissue donor.

They've also been instrumental in making sure donor information is available at every motor vehicle office, so those considering donation are able to do so at the point of license renewal.

One of the things Cochran says is so important in getting people to donate, is to dispel the many myths that prevent them from donating. Some of the biggest misconceptions include a fear that you won't receive treatment should an accident or illness occur; that it costs a donor to donate; that a person's religion may not support it; or that someone is too old, too young, or too sick to donate.

"We try so hard to educate those people about these misconceptions and correct them," he said. "Most people just don't understand the process."

Efforts Yield More Donors in Iowa

The initiative seems to be working. Cochran said that in 2007, when My Angel Foundation first launched, there were only 97,000 names on the Iowa Donor Network registry. Today, according to the Iowa Donor Network website, there are more than 1,656,050 registered donors.

Chris Keahi, public affairs coordinator at the Iowa Donor Network, says Cochran's efforts with My Angel Foundation may not completely solve the need for more donors, but everything he does to change people's minds about organ donation means one more life saved.

"Donation and transplantation is one of those things people don’t think about until it somehow it affects their own life," Keahi said. "Where Ted excels is that he puts a face to those people on a waiting list and to those people who have become donors and those who have become candidates. He really makes it personal. These aren’t just figures we talk about. Ted has a way of telling people stories that make the problem relatable."

Cochran remains humble when he talks about what he's done with My Angel Foundation. Above all, he wants people to remember that it's not about what has happened to him — it's about what's happening to others around them and what they can do to change the lives of those people.

"It was my passion to honor my mom’s gift and wanting to be an advocate. Hopefully, if we made an impact on one person’s life, then it’s worth it," Cochran said. "But it’s not, 'The Ted Show.' Yes, I had a vision, but we would not have been able to get to where we are now without the countless number of volunteers who have spent thousands of hours or the countless donations that have been donated to My Angel Foundation. That's what this is all about."

What does Cochran's mom think of all this? Like any mom would be, she's proud of what her son has accomplished.

"I’m just very pleased that Ted's work has impacted so many people," Carla said. "I have been through all these organizations and the walks and I've come across so many people and listened to their stories. I know how donation can affect people’s lives. I've seen it in Ted. I see how it changed him. I'm very proud of him. He's giving someone else hope and inspiration."

To become an organ donor, you can sign up at www.iowadonornetwork.org; designate your decision on your driver's license; tell your family and friends about your decision; and make sure to include the information in your advance directives and wills.

Kimberly Hill January 11, 2012 at 03:15 PM
Very touching. Thank you for sharing that story with us. Your mom is an Angel. I am a living kidney donor to my brother and he is alive and well today. I help promote the need for organs as much as I can. I wish more people would become a needed person's angel!
David J Undis January 12, 2012 at 05:14 PM
The generosity of live organ donors is wonderful. It's a shame we need so many live organ donors. Americans bury or cremate 20,000 transplantable organs every year. There is another good way to put a big dent in the organ shortage -- if you don't agree to donate your organs when you die, then you go to the back of the waiting list if you ever need an organ to live. Giving organs first to organ donors will convince more people to register as organ donors. It will also make the organ allocation system fairer. About 50% of the organs transplanted in the United States go to people who haven't agreed to donate their own organs when they die. Anyone who wants to donate their organs to others who have agreed to donate theirs can join LifeSharers. LifeSharers is a non-profit network of organ donors who agree to offer their organs first to other organ donors when they die. Membership is free at www.lifesharers.org or by calling 1-888-ORGAN88. There is no age limit, parents can enroll their minor children, and no one is excluded due to any pre-existing medical condition. LifeSharers has over 14,800 members, including 119 members in Iowa.
Todd Richissin January 20, 2012 at 09:34 PM
Love the back-of-the line strategy.
Deb Belt January 23, 2012 at 07:14 PM
Make the decision to do it when you renew your drivers license. At least one good thing should come out of the pain of waiting in line at the DMV.
Beth Dalbey April 05, 2012 at 08:29 PM
This story touched my heart in many ways. A good friend's husband donated a kidney to her. When she rejected it, her son's mentor stepped in and said he'd give up one of his. They weren't a match, but he did happen to match a complete stranger who also needed a kidney. So two women who didn't know each other are alive today – and not living their lives hooked up to dialysis equipment – ended up getting kidneys from humanitarian donors. You betcha I'm an organ donor.

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