Organ donors, recipients raising awareness at Hood to Coast

PORTLAND, Ore. - Laura Ellsworth was a high school senior when she found out her kidney was failing.

"I was just tired a lot," she said. "I couldn't keep up with my friends. I couldn't stay up all night, you know?"

Five years later, when she became gravely sick, Ellsworth's father gave her one of his kidneys. He has since died of skin cancer, but Laura knows she has a piece of her dad with her all the time.

"That's been pretty heartbreaking but his kidney's still in me and doing its job," she said.

Friday, more than 1,000 teams will hit the pavement in the 31st annual Hood to Coast Relay. Ellsworth is one of 12 organ donors and recipients who make up the Transplant Trotters, a team that takes part in the relay to raise awareness about the need for more organ donors.

"We have very distinctive shirts with organs with feet on them," said Ellsworth.

According to Donate Life Northwest, a nonprofit organization that promotes organ donation and sponsors the Transplant Trotters, 854 Oregonians are waiting for donor organs.

In the United States, a new person is added to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) organ waiting list every 11 minutes; a list that contains more than 111,000 names, according to Donate Life Northwest.

Nicole Andergard is another member of the Transplant Trotters. She donated her kidney to her best friend, Anna, five years ago.

"Every time she went through dialysis she was losing her battle a little more each day," Andergard said.

Andergard said she wants people who are considering organ donation to know that surgery didn't affect her health. She said she was back to her old self after her recovery.

"That's really what transplantation is all about," Ellsworth agreed. "I just returned to my normal quality of life."

The Transplant Trotters placed 11th out of 100 coed walking teams in 2011.

"That's pretty darn good for a bunch of people with spare parts," Ellsworth said.