HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — It started with a unique sign.
A car decal on Patsy Nielsen's vehicle read, "My Husband Needs an O+ Kidney."
A driver who saw the decal at a stop sign turned out to be a match and became their living kidney donor earlier this year.
“Since his transplant, everything has kind of gotten back to what we call a new normal,” said Nielsen. “I decided to help others by giving them a decal in hopes that they find their donor as Patrick did.”
Nielsen is now creating decals for others who are trying to find living donors.
“I’ve sent one to Key West, California and Winter Haven so far, as well as Betsy here in Tampa,” she said.
Betsy Urrea, 28, first learned she had chronic kidney disease and a blood clotting disorder her senior year of high school.
“Ten years ago, I never would have thought about being a kidney organ donor, in general, just an organ donor. I would have never thought that would have never crossed my mind, but where I’m at in this time in my life, I appreciate organ donors on a much higher level because you just learn so much going through ten years of what I’ve been going through. It’s been a very, very roller coaster ride. And right now, I try to stay as positive as I can,” Urrea said.
While Urrea waits for a donor, she’s now on dialysis eight hours a day.
“I post on Facebook. Instagram. I make videos. I do shareable links. I have a GoFundMe; I repost that. And I’ve gotten you know a lot of emails and messages and phone calls people reaching out whether it’s a car, decal, by word of mouth, by a friend, by Instagram, Facebook just I’ve tried everything, and I’m still doing what I can to just get that out there how important that is,” she said.
Urrea has been driving around with her own car decal a friend made, directing people to contact BetsyNeedsaKideny@yahoo.com. She’s looking for a blood type A or O donor.
Nielsen said she happened to spot it at a local cafe shortly as her husband’s donor was undergoing testing. Soon after, she made decals for Urrea’s family and friends too.
“These decals they’re more than a decal driving around for sure. It’s a life-saving situation decal,” said Urrea.
More than 5,000 people in Florida are waiting for a life-saving transplant right now. 85% of them are in need of a kidney transplant. Each day, 22 people die in the United States waiting for transplants.
“Earlier in March we saw a slight decrease in our donors, but in May we saw that number actually go back up and we’re actually set to have another record year in LifeLink in terms of not only donors but lives saved,” said Ashley Moore, the manager of public affairs for the LifeLink Foundation, about the western region of Florida.
Donate Life Florida recently launched a license plate voucher program to help fund education and maintain the registry. They must sell 3,000 vouchers before the plate can go into production, though. The cost is $33.
Meanwhile, each time Nielsen sends a decal to someone she also adds a note.
“I just say, 'I hope this decal brings you as much luck as it did with us. We’re here, we’re always thinking about you,'” she said.