Texas News
4:02 am
Wed April 2, 2014

Indiana Farmer Thanks Keller Family For A Gift: His Right Hand

A man from Keller who died two years ago has left a lasting, even historic, legacy. That's because Ian Heidemann was an organ donor. In a rare, experimental surgery, one of his hands is now attached to a recipient who traveled from Indiana to Fort Worth Tuesday. At John Peter Smith Hospital, the farmer thanked the medical staff and the donor's family. As part of our Breakthroughs Initiative, he also talked with KERA.

Ronnie Thurman severed his right hand while working on his farm in Marion, Ind.

"Got caught in a combine," he said. "Hand was where it shouldn't be -- ripped it off."

For eight years, he learned to get by with just his left hand. But then he got a call from North Texas about a transplant. Ian Heidemann of Keller, a 22-year-old, was in a car accident. Five days later, he was brain dead.

That's when Susan Nelson, a donation clinical specialist with Life Gift in Fort Worth, contacted the Heidemann family. She asked Ian's father, Rob, if he'd consent to donating their son's right hand to help a 56-year-old farmer.

"If this man needed a hand," she said. "And Ian matched, make it happen."

Ian's heart was transplanted into a Houston man. Ian's lungs went to another Houston native. And there were more organ donations. Ian's parents, Rob and Janice, say they are proud that their son was a registered organ donor. During a talk with the medical staff, they shared a little more about who Ian was.

"We loved him," they said. "He never left the house without telling us he loved us. Typical young man. He had his hands around his buddies. Very adventurous, well-liked. Probably give us a hard time for what we're saying about him today. Great guy. Love him."

Rob Heidemann says he misses his son, but is happy at what he gave others.

"As a family who lost a loved one, it also gave us incredible strength and peace, seeing the good that comes out of this," he said.

The farmer who received Ian's hand, Thurman, got the transplant two years ago. The transplant is called vascular composite allografts. Those who go through with the surgery must be on a cocktail of drugs for life. But Thurman appears to be a model recipient, says Dr. Tae Chong, director of Reconstructive Transplantation, a new transplant program at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

"The guy was farming as soon as he got home," Chong said. "What does that tell you about the type of person he is? This is a lifelong event. It's your hands until you die."

Thurman admits feeling not so good for a few months on steroids and other drugs. But two years after surgery, he says he feels like a million bucks, and can now do things he hadn't been able to do in years -- like hold his wife's hands.

"All the little things in life like that," he said. "Scratch her back, and all the things she deserves. Kathy has been a tremendous support. Without Kathy and Adam, my son, I don't know what I'd have done. I may not even have taken it on."

But he did, and to make others aware of what organ donations can do, he helped raise a Donate Life flag at a hospital garden. Ian's parents and other donor recipients watched, some in tears, grateful for the extension of their lives, thanks to one young man.