Larry Sickels is a certified PLTW teacher in all four PLTW Biomedical Science courses, and was inspired to become an altruistic donor, which is someone who donates a kidney to someone they don’t know, in part, because of Unit Lesson 4.2 Organ Failure of Medical Interventions.
“One of the first questions people ask me when I tell them that I'm a kidney donor is why would I donate a kidney,” Larry shared on a series of videos recorded for Hiring A Hero. Larry is a relatively young and healthy father of two children, but he came into the experience more prepared than others thanks to his experience teaching biomedical science. “I'm a biomedical science teacher and one of the things that I teach about is kidney donation so I feel as though I knew a lot about it going into it probably more so than your average person.”
Larry is referring to Unit Lesson 4.2 Organ Failure of Medical Interventions where students diagnosed Diana Jones with end-stage renal disease. In this lesson, students follow Diana as she goes through the transplant process. Students investigate organ allocation policies as they decide which of two matching patients should receive a donated kidney. Students then learn that members of Diana’s family have offered to be potential living donors and have to determine who could donate a kidney to Diana based on blood and tissue type.
After seven years of teaching the course, he felt like he generally understood the risks involved and was eager to give back to others., It wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic that Larry realized the impact his donation could have on those with existing health concerns. “When COVID hit, I realized how much more difficult life would be for people with a health concern specifically with those people going to dialysis several times a week, and I figured that it was the right time.”
Larry contacted John Hopkins in February 2021 and his surgery was scheduled for August. With the support of his family and advice from online communities he completed the donation surgery and started the recovery process, only missing the first couple weeks of the new school year. Unintentionally, through the power of social media, this altruistic donor was able to connect with the recipient of his kidney. “I didn't need to know who the recipient was. I knew that it was going somewhere it was going to live a great life, and I was going to help somebody and that's all I needed.” Larry said, “Now, knowing who it is makes it all worth it. I know it's a guy who's got two kids and he gets to be the dad that he wants to be; he's going to be there for his kids and for me, I guess, that reinforces why I wanted to do this. It was the icing on the cake.”
This experience changed Larry and transformed him into a more informed advocate for organ and blood donation. “Having gone through it myself I'm able to have much more informed conversations with people and really give them my firsthand experience,” he explained. Larry also learned that his transplant was part of a chain transplant that resulted in three donated kidneys. We are so thankful that Larry has shared his story with us, and in true teacher fashion has used this as an opportunity to provide real-world perspectives into his classroom. “In my classroom, my students are able to get a firsthand account of what happens. I've got pictures and all my lab results that I share with them, and it really makes it real just having those conversations.”