Two UT employees whose lives have been changed by organ donation joined UT Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman and UT System Interim President Randy Boyd Monday as Boyd signed the university’s new Laura McGinnis Policy on Organ Donation.
The moment marked the culmination of months of advocacy by Laura McGinnis’s mother, Frankie McGinnis, an employee in the UT Institute of Agriculture and an organ donor, and Tom Satkowiak, associate athletics director for communications and the beneficiary of an organ transplant.
“When I heard their stories, I couldn’t help but be moved,” Plowman said. “I approached President Boyd, and he shared my view that we can do this for our employees to make UT a workplace of choice, and he made it happen.”
Plowman began holding office hours on campus in July 2019, shortly after she arrived as UT Knoxville’s new chancellor. McGinnis and Satkowiak were among the first to attend to talk about the need for a policy on organ donation.
The policy holds special meaning for each of them.
McGinnis was not a donor match for her 23-year-old daughter, Laura, who was suffering from cystinosis, a disease that was causing kidney failure for the second time. Instead, McGinnis decided to donate a kidney to another patient to help move Laura up the transplant list. As she began preparing for the donation last spring, she looked into UT’s employee leave policies for organ donors.
“As I did research, I realized there was no policy. The policy was I would have to use all my time,” McGinnis said, adding that she didn’t have much sick or vacation time because she had used it caring for her daughter.
“I thought, ‘You shouldn’t have to make that choice.’”
Looking for fellow advocates, McGinnis recalled hearing Satkowiak’s story and reached out to him for help spreading the word.
Satkowiak was diagnosed in 2000 with primary sclerosing cholangitis, a bile duct and gallbladder disease that causes gradual but extensive liver damage. The only known cure is a liver transplant. After four years on the transplant list, Satkowiak received his new liver in October 2018.
“This new policy is going to save lives,” Satkowiak said. “It’s going to encourage people—people who might be on the fence about whether or not they can make this work—it’s going to help them make the decision to donate.”
Laura McGinnis received a new kidney in June 2019. In October, she died from complications of her underlying disease.
Even as Frankie McGinnis grieved her daughter, she was determined to follow through with her donation. In November, she underwent surgery at Duke University Medical Center and donated her left kidney to a 26-year-old woman in North Carolina with cystinosis. Though the new leave policy was not available in time for McGinnis to benefit, she felt she couldn’t wait.
“I knew I had to give this kidney to someone and I knew I had to do it as quickly as possible, because every day someone is on dialysis or they’re in organ failure is a day that they might die,” she said.
Plowman said she was so moved by McGinnis’s story and sacrifice that the drive to see through the policy change became personal to her, too. The new policy is named in memory of Laura.
“No one ever put our policies together to be a barrier, but it turns out they were,” Plowman said. “It takes people like Frankie and Tom to step forward and say ‘Isn’t this something we can do? We can be better than this.’ That’s why I’m so supportive of their efforts and really proud of them.”
The Laura McGinnis Policy on Organ Donation will go into effect March 1. The new policy will provide six weeks of paid leave to UT employees across the system who donate an organ—an extraordinary Volunteer act. It also provides one week to recover from a bone marrow donation.