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Donate Life: A Veteran's Testimony of the Life Saving Impact of Organ Donors

Donate Life Veteran Testimony
Gregory Zielsdorf, U.S. Army Veteran, Ret., shares his testimony as an organ donor recipient.

Gregory Zielsdorf, U.S. Army Veteran, Ret., shares his testimony as an organ donor recipient.

Gregory Zielsdorf is 49 years old and currently works at the Erie VAMC as a Transportation Assistant. Mr. Zielsdorf served in the United States Army from 1995 to 2016 where he served two tours in Iraq. During his time in the Army, Gregory began experiencing bad flare ups of gout and his kidney levels started changing for the worse. He was asked to retire from the Army due to no longer being deployable because of kidney failure.

Gregory moved to Erie after his retirement and sought care from the Erie VA Medical Center in 2017. Gregory did not need specialty care from the VA before his transplant, but once his doctors saw he needed service for his kidneys they began lab work and referred him to be put on the organ donor list at the Pittsburgh VA where he was given a transplant coordinator and met with transplant doctors.

“I thought everything moved so fast” Gregory says, “I was put on the list in 2017 and in August of 2020 during Covid-19 I received a call that they have a kidney for me.”
Before the transplant, Gregory felt fine aside from the flare ups of gout but because of how poorly his kidneys worked, his doctors advised he needed a transplant despite his young age. “I heard horror stories of organ transplant waiting times taking 10 to 15 years” Gregory said, “And you can’t live on dialysis forever. Luckily, I never had to do dialysis to any great extent before receiving the kidney transplant after 3 years on the donor list.”

Gregory received care at the Erie VA for blood work and checkups, but the transplant surgery was performed at the Pittsburgh VA. Sharing that the process itself was very easy, Gregory felt he had to do very little, and his transplant coordinators at the Erie VA and Pittsburgh VA handled everything. The VA transplant coordinators make sure that everything before and after the transplant surgery goes smoothly.

“My transplant experience was flawless,” Gregory says, “If there’s ever anything that comes up, the VA is quick to respond and tell me who to see. Like when I first got the transplant, I was in a hotel because they keep you down in Pittsburgh for a week after you’re released from the hospital so you’re close by in case anything comes up.  Well, I had a major bit of cramping for whatever reason, and they advised me to go to the Pittsburgh VA Emergency Room and reassured me I would be fine. The transplant coordinator, surgeon, and doctors came down to the ER to verify everything was fine and good to go. I’ve been so shocked by their care because you hear horror stories of any type of surgery, but this went so smoothly. The care is amazing. Not just the Erie VA or the Pittsburgh VA, but the VA in general is so well taken care of. They care about the Veterans, and they want to see them get better and get whatever service they need. It’s been amazing.”

Since the transplant, Gregory has not had a flare up of gout. He may need to be put on the kidney transplant list again due to his young age and doctors saying that a kidney lasts 10 to 12 years.

Gregory shares that “If you are a Veteran and have the opportunity to have the VA take care of you, do it, and if you want to be an organ donor, I strongly encourage you to because there are a lot of people in need. It does a great service. I’m very grateful, and the families are very grateful to those donors because it gives them some extra time with their loved one.”