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Video series depicts connection between organ donors, recipient families

Donor Network West's 'Dear Donor' series shows impact of organ donation

San Ramon-based Donor Network West launched a new video series focusing on organ donation stories last week in Pleasanton while also announcing a new partnership with San Ramon Regional Medical Center.

The organ donation non-profit launched its Dear Donor video series, which tells the story of an organ transplant from the perspective of the donor and the recipient. In its first video, the family of a young child who received new organs thanked the 22-year-old donor's family for the gift of life.

Matthew Ouimet, of Antioch, was just a toddler when his kidneys began failing due to a rare genetic disease, primary hyperoxaluria. Matthew, now 5, received a kidney and liver organ transplant in 2013 after Brandon Burnett died following a car crash near Sacramento.

The video detailed how the two families met and bonded, and how Brandon's mom Maggie Kolb feels grateful in a bittersweet way that they're able to see his impact on Matthew.

"She knew the importance for us to know Brandon as a person and not just the person who gave two organs," Matthew's mom Kristi Ouimet said, noting her son will sometimes try to talk to Brandon. "He said things like, 'Brandon, you're my hero, and i just wanted to tell you thank you for making me feel better.'"

Both families' lives changed when it was clear that Brandon wouldn't recover from the crash. Donating his organs was a small way for Kolb to continue her son's legacy of caring for others, she said in the video.

Brandon, a military veteran, had been visiting his family in Sacramento when the crash occurred. He was on his way to start college in Santa Barbara and was known for his caring heart and giving spirit.

"He wanted to help people, to do everything in his power to help people, and he would want us to do this," she said, noting he had registered as an organ donor.

After the transplant, Kolb saw the Ouimet family's story, which had been broadcast and printed in Bay Area media.

"Once we started going through the healing process, I got a call from a woman who wanted to

let me know she thought her son was my son's donor," Ouimet said. "She had been following us since the day of transplant."

From that day, the two families have grown to be one large support system. Brandon's family said they feel invested in Matthew's future.

Now a rambunctious 5-year-old, Matthew enjoys running around with his friends like any other little kid, his mom said.

"It's so cool that I get to watch my brother live again," said Brandon's sister, Ashley Burnett-Hazlett, in the Dear Donor video.

Donor Network West is responsible for organ donations from more than 175 hospitals within 100,000 square miles, ranging from northern Nevada to San Luis Obispo, network spokeswoman Cathy Olmo said.

The recent partnership allows donors to be transported to San Ramon Regional Medical Center, where the organs are recovered.

Olmo said smaller, local hospitals that the network partners with often have extensive operation room backlogs, so organ recovery falls lower on the list. With the partnership, the timeline for organ recovery can be sped up so a family doesn't have to extend the painful process of waiting to take their loved one off life support.

Kolb said in the video that while she misses her son, being able to connect with his organ recipient gave her some peace.

"I would not hesitate to encourage everyone to become an organ donor," she said.

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