Right now approximately 55,000 people in this country are on a waiting list for a cadaver kidney. Sadly, 17 people die every day waiting. That's why the reigning Mrs. South Dakota America Tina Ward's chose a platform to increase awareness for organ donation, especially for living kidney donations. As Nancy Naeve Brown tells us she is leading by example.
To Tina Ward Richard Countryman has always been Dad, even though he's not her biological father.
Tina says, "My dad adopted me when I was 3. We've always had a special bond, a father/daughter bond. When I was in trouble it was him I'd go to, not my mom."
When Richard found out 5 years ago he had Vasculitis or Wegener's Granulomatosis that caused permanent kidney failure, the roles were reversed.
Richard chokes up and says, "We'd thought we lost everything. Sorry. I didn't know what we were going to do."
Richard spent 4 hours a day, 3 days a week doing dialysis and he did that for 9 long months. He needed a kidney transplant to survive.
Nephrologist Dr. Robert Santella is the Medical Director of the Avera Transplant Institute. He says, "First of all let's just say transplants are better than dialysis in general because people feel better and live longer and it's cheaper than dialysis. So it's a win, win, win."
When Richard's biological son discovered he wasn't a match, Tina secretly got tested. Much to her surprise she was thrilled to learn she was. They had their surgeries in June 2006 at the Avera Transplant Institute.
Tina tells us, "I got this huge poster board that says I have a special gift for you. I made it out of kidney beans. I also wrote a letter to my Dad that said as you've always been there for me throughout my life. He chose me as his daughter and to please let me do this for him. It's not a question of whether or not I should. I want to do this."
Richard says, "This is the greatest thing that's ever happened. It's like a miracle. It is a miracle."
Tina says, "It's the best thing I've ever done. The crown and sash are an accomplishment, but for me it doesn't even compare. That is something when you look back in life and wonder if I made the right choices in life this is one thing in my life I will never look back and wonder."
Richard says, "We are closer now. We were always close and I think that's why she did it because we were so close."
Tina says, "It's the gift of life. God put us together and I believe this is his reasoning."
Tina wants others to know, you don't have to share a bloodline to share a kidney. It starts with having a giving heart.
Even after Tina's reign as Mrs. South Dakota America is over in June 2011 she plans to continue her mission to raise awareness about the Avera Transplant Institute and the importance of organ donation.