Thrive by IU Health

February 07, 2023

Multi-organ transplant patient is an ambassador for educating about organ sharing

IU Health University Hospital

Multi-organ transplant patient is an ambassador for educating about organ sharing

She knows what it’s like to be a recipient and now this Franklin, Ind. resident is sharing her experience with others.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, TJ Banes,

It’s more than a decade since Jeannine McKinney received a multi-organ transplant at IU Health, but she remembers the day like it was yesterday. It is that memory that propels her into action.

“Honestly, the transplant team at IU Health has become like family. They are a great team and I love the doctors. I don’t know if I’d be alive today if it weren’t for them,” said McKinney, 53.

In 1999, when she was pregnant with her second son, she had flu-like symptoms. When the symptoms didn’t go away, she went for testing and was diagnosed with Caroli disease, a congenital disorder that results in cystic dilation of bile ducts in the liver. “I was told it is hereditary and is common in people from Eastern Europe. My mother’s family is from Yugoslavia but no one else has it,” said McKinney.

A year after she had her son, McKinney went in to IU Health where she had her gall bladder and half of her liver removed. The remaining portion of the liver can grow back to normal size within a few weeks.

“It helped for about 10 years. I continued to have scans and bloodwork and in 2009 my gastroenterologist said my liver was getting worse and I needed a transplant,” said McKinney. For nearly a year she made regular hospital visits to have her liver bile ducts cleaned while awaiting a transplant.

On June 15, 2011 McKinney received a liver, pancreas, and intestinal transplant at IU Health University Hospital. A year later, she went into intestinal rejection and was in and out of the hospital. After a couple of years, she said she was back to normal. She continues with yearly colonoscopies and has checkups under the care of Dr. Richard Mangus.

IU Health has consistently been ranked among the top hospitals in the nation for transplant. In 2022, IU Health was ranked in top 10 for total pancreas, intestine, and liver transplant volumes.

Married to her husband, Scott for 25 years, McKinney now enjoys spending time with her two sons, three granddaughters and one grandson. She has also enjoyed traveling to such places as the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. Some of that travel has been to participate in the Transplant Games of America. Last year she competed in bowling, darts and the 2K walk, and medaled in bowling doubles.

“The coolest thing about the games is meeting other people from all over the United States who have had transplant and just hearing their stories,” said McKinney. The games are held every two years and she hopes to return in 2024.

As a way of showing her gratitude, McKinney serves as an ambassador for the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). The non-profit organization is responsible for managing the national transplant waiting list, matching donors to recipients and maintaining a database of all organ transplants throughout the United States. She also volunteers with the Indiana Donor Network. Once a month she helps prepare packets for donor families and helps sew blankets for children.

“I don’t think I’d be alive today if it weren’t for my transplant and the amazing organ donors,” said McKinney.

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