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GILLETT, Wis. (AP) — The letter arrived a little more than 15 months after Josh Richards died following a shooting at an Appleton nightclub.
The email from American Tissue Services Foundation told his parents, Jackie and Mike Pische of Gillett, the donation of Richards' tissue helped more than 50 people in 9 states and Switzerland.
It took Mike Pische, his step-dad, two days to finish reading the document, Press-Gazette Media (http://gbpg.net/1JK4ymx ) reported.
Both say knowing their 25-year-old son lives on in others has helped them cope with his sudden loss. So have letters of gratitude from recipients.
"Your heart wants to get angry, then you receive these letters ... They break your heart and you just want to melt," Mike Pische said. "We didn't do anything, it was all Josh. But it kind of opens your eyes that there's more that can be had out of it."
To date, Richards' organs helped seven people; his corneas gave sight back to two in Wisconsin; and more than 239 tissue grafts.
"To see that many grafts made, and that many people impacted positively, wow," Jackie Pische said. "That's what one person can do. It's tragic when you lose somebody like this, but the ultimate outcome for us has been helping all of these other people. And that's the way he would have wanted it."
While vital organs often take center stage in stories about donation awareness, eyes and tissue are critical gifts to helping improve — and in some cases, save — the lives of others.
Gannett Wisconsin Media is teaming up with Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin and Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb to help build awareness about organ, eye and tissue donation in Wisconsin.
Advocates say eye and tissue donation can help dozens of people through the donation of heart valves, bone, skin, veins, and tendons and ligaments.
There are about 1 million tissue transplants a year from 20,000 donors, according to American Tissue Services Foundation. Registration with the Wisconsin Donor Registry includes tissue and eye donation.
"People are much more aware of organ donation because they know someone who has benefited from a kidney transplant, so it's very familiar to people," said Lori Shinstine, a registered nurse and vice president of operations for American Tissue Services Foundation. "When you talk about tissue donation, it's less familiar. As we go out and educate people ... we're starting to see a lot more knowledge."
American Tissue Services Foundation specializes in the recovery of donor tissue with offices in Kimberly, Eau Claire and Madison. It is one of a several tissue banks operating in the state.
While eye and tissue donation may sometimes be overshadowed by stories of organ donation, it's an equally important gift for people to make, said Trey Schwab, outreach coordinator with University of Wisconsin Organ and Tissue Donation and vice chair of the Donate Life America Advisory Committee.
"The organ is going to get to get a little more attention because you see patients who are waiting, and dying if they don't get an organ they need, you don't always see that with tissue and eye donation," he said. "Tissue donation, in certain circumstances with skin donation for burn victims and those types of things, is lifesaving."
Donor tissue is used in procedures including knee reconstruction, dental surgery, lumbar spinal fusions, an anterior cruciate ligament repair.
Robin Barry of Wauwatosa is one of the people benefiting from a donation. Donated tissue from a child was used to repair a hole in the cartilage of one of her knees.
"For a good year I was in constant pain," Barry said. "I can tell a difference. It's a much smoother walking experience and the knee feels smooth and fluid. It's very natural."
Not surprisingly, Barry is a registered organ and tissue donor and urges others to do the same.
"As science and medicine progresses, we're seeing all these different ways tissue and organs can be used," she said. "It's a great gift someone can give to another person... It's that legacy of someone living on."
___The Lions Eye Bank said there's no waiting list for corneal transplant in Wisconsin, thanks in large part to its work with a national eye bank program known as Vision Share.
The eye bank, the only one in the state, recorded 779 donors last year with corneas going to 873 people in Wisconsin; 92 outside of the state; and 94 out of the country. Corneas generally don't stay at the bank for more than four days.
More people are eligible to give tissue, because unlike many organs, donation doesn't require a relatively narrow medical criteria of how death happens. Between 1 and 3 percent of organ donor candidates die in a manner that provides viable organs for transplant.
"Most of us aren't going to die under the parameters for organ donation, but once our heart has stopped... would we be able to give these gifts of tissue, possibly the gift of sight as well," Shinstine said.
Richards, a 2006 graduate of Gillett High School decided to become a donor at 16 when he got his drivers license.
"Thank God he made that decision ... and we knew," Jackie Pische said. "It wouldn't have been a decision for us. Josh donated blood every chance he had. It was just in his nature."
She is a recipient of tissue from her son. His bone was used in a double spinal fusion last summer.
The family is awaiting the December trial of the man charged with homicide in the death of her son in 2013. They work as advocates for the Donate Life program, the University of Wisconsin Transplant program, American Tissue Services Foundation, and a foundation set up in honor of Josh.
"We always say the Donate Life program saved us," Jackie Pische said. "If all we had to do was concentrate on that murder, it would just be devastating for our family. Instead, we've turned it around."
Information from: Press-Gazette Media, http://www.greenbaypressgazette.com
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