Celebrating a decade of health, life

Stapleton walks his dog.Andrew Stapleton is a professor of operation and supply chain management. Spending time with his dog, Xaanten, is just one way he has enjoyed life and health post transplant. Stapleton raises German Shepherds and Huskies at his Onalaska home.

Professor learns his organ donor has a UWL connection

Professor Andrew Stapleton reaches out to two important UW-La Crosse alums every Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

The couple are not his parents. But they have an important link to the reason he is alive.

About a decade ago, Stapleton was very ill. A diabetic of 23 years, he was keeping up a regimen of four to five insulin shots a day.

One morning he would get up with healthy blood sugar levels. The next, his count would sky rocket to 600 milligrams per deciliter — a level close to causing life-threatening dehydration and diabetic coma if untreated. Considered a “fragile diabetic,” his levels fluctuated regardless of what he ate or how much he exercised.

Being diabetic caused other complications as well, including the need for 10 eye procedures and the slow deterioration of his kidneys. Entering his 40s, Stapleton was exhausted and constantly felt ill as if he had food poisoning. It affected his ability to concentrate and do high level math as part of his research.

Doctors put Stapleton on the kidney-pancreas organ transplant list. About 18 months later, on Sept.15, 2008, he received the call from UW Health in Madison. He felt mixed emotions.

“I was elated because I knew I would get better,” says Stapleton. “But I also knew someone had passed away who had provided those organs to me.”

“I was elated because I knew I would get better,” says Stapleton. “But I also knew someone had passed away who had provided those organs to me.”

New life

Stapleton didn’t realize how unhealthy he was until he woke up in his hospital bed post-transplant feeling 20 years younger. His head was clear and the food poisoning feeling was gone. He wrote to his organ donor’s family, expressing his gratitude for the gift of life.

It wasn’t until he was preparing to teach an online course on New Year’s Eve of 2009, that a phone call came from his donor’s father — who surprisingly had a UWL connection.

Months later he met his donor’s parents for dinner, two UW-La Crosse alums, Tom and Pat Lemke who attended UWL in the 1960s.

Stapleton calls it “emotional and cathartic” to learn more about his donor, Chris Lemke, as well as develop a relationship with his donor’s parents. He has learned he shares similarities with Chris, including both working in the same supply chain management field and both having a twin brother. He has kept in touch with Pat and Tom, and reaches out every Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Christmas.

Pat and Tom have also taken an interest in Stapleton’s accomplishments. His ability to do high level math immediately came back post-transplant, and he has returned to being a prolific publisher over the past decade. He’s been energized by collaborations with other faculty and staff on projects and committees. He has loved the connections he has made with thousands of UWL’s business management students.

Yousaf Almazrou, an international student from Saudi Arabia, calls Stapleton “phenomenal,” engaging him in many after class discussions about areas to continue studying.

Stapleton says post-transplant he has also taken greater pleasure in the small things — watching his dogs do tricks in the backyard, or taking a long bike ride on a summer day. He’s been able to watch his daughters — Katie and Karen — grow into young women who are now both early in their careers, one in management and one in law.

Two years ago, he joined his daughters on a Kidney Foundation 5K run/walk in Madison. They distributed T-shirts at the start of the race with a blank line on the back for organ recipients to write what the donation meant to them.

Stapleton wrote “2,914” — for every additional bonus day of life since his transplant.

Waiting for transplants

On average, 20 people die each day while waiting for a transplant. Source: Organ Procurement and Transplant Network.

A family affair

Diabetes runs in Andrew Stapleton’s family. After getting his transplant, he watched two of his older brothers develop similar signs of kidney failure. Stapleton convinced them to get procedures at UW-Health, a global leader in simultaneous kidney-pancreas transplants. They are now the only three siblings in the world to have kidney-pancreas transplants.