CLEVELAND — Encouraging people to give so veterans can live — that’s the goal of a non-profit that is expanding its efforts here in Ohio. It’s called DOVE Transplant, or Donor Outreach for Veterans.
As of right now, there are roughly 100,000 people waiting on transplants across the U.S. Of those, at least 2,000 are military veterans.
The need is critical as so many people often wait years for a transplant, some passing away before ever finding a match.
The nonprofit matches living donors with veterans, expediting the process and giving them a second chance at life.
Ohio native John Anderson made the ultimate sacrifice, serving our nation in the United States Air Force Reserve. After his tour of duty, he settled down with his wife and two children and was thriving in Columbus.
Then in 2018, it all came to a screeching halt.
"Due to a prostate issue, I went to the emergency room septic," Anderson said.
After going septic, Anderson's kidneys started shutting down. It was apparent there was severe damage.
"There was a decision made by cardiologists and doctors. You know, for me, to start getting on the journey of getting on the transplant list as well as starting dialysis," Anderson said.
Hooked up to a machine for hours on end, three to four times a week, Anderson admits the kidney dialysis process and searching for a donor was overwhelming and exhausting.
Then one day, his wife spotted a segment on the national news for DOVE Transplant.
It was a light bulb moment.
"They instantly partnered with me. I got a call two days later from DOVE," Anderson said.
Founder and Executive Director Sharyn Kreitzer started DOVE in 2020 after working as a social worker for dialysis patients and then later at a VA transplant center.
"While there...I saw a tremendous opportunity to tap into the goodwill of the general public, as well as the vast military ecosystem," Kreitzer said.
Sharyn says she witnessed a group of veterans who were actively waiting, some dying and never getting the necessary transplant.
She began facilitating transplants through DOVE, screening 600 potential donors and successfully transplanting their 25th veteran last month.
"What better message to send people who served that when they now need us, you know, we have their back," Kreitzer said.
Thanks to DOVE, perseverance and a commercial spot searching for a donor, John found his perfect match.
He refers to her as his guardian angel, and he shockingly did not have to go far to locate her.
DOVE helped make it happen in just a few months.
"My donor that I have now went unbeknownst to me....I work with Valerie LeMaster. She went behind the scenes and told me she was going to donate her kidney," Anderson said.
Kreitzer has been so inspired by the process that she actually became a living donor, giving a kidney to a local veteran in need.
"We can really start saving thousands and thousands of lives by just amplifying awareness," Kreitzer said.
Anderson says the non-profit is invaluable and provided him with hope and a second chance at life.
"Doing just all kinds of stuff, which is just amazing. I feel like I'm 30 years younger now," Anderson said.
When asked whether DOVE saved his life, he said, "It did."
DOVE is actively seeking donors and connecting with more veterans in need of transplants.
For additional information and to find a potential match, click here.
The organization also offers a built-in support system for Veterans and their family, so no one ever feels alone.