Written by: Jennifer Cramer-Miller
On the evening on May 5th, Andrea Deanovic Schmidt attended the Minnesota National Kidney Foundation (NKF) Orange Gala, like she has many times before, as a grateful kidney transplant recipient and board member. But this year’s event became extra special. Because this year, as she sat with her brother Pete Deanovic (her heroic kidney donor), Andrea received the Arthur P. Pasquarella Leadership in Action Award.
This award celebrates Andrea’s outstanding accomplishments as a NKF volunteer, and her significant dedication and commitment to the overall mission.
The spark that lit Andrea’s dedication traces back to the evening of her transplant in 2013. That’s when her father, perched bedside, posed a question that planted a seed. He asked, “So what are you going to do next? How are you going to pay this forward?”
It’s a big question for a young woman on the heels of major surgery, but Mr. Deanovic must have known that his son’s proclivity to put empathy into action lived within his daughter, as well.
Andrea carried this question like a fertile seed seeking the proper soil.
Almost one year exactly (364 days to be exact) after Andrea’s kidney function was restored, she went to work at Optum as the Transplant Resource Services product director.
This is where her hazy quest to “pay it forward” came sharply into focus.
In her position at Optum, she witnessed the significant financial hardships that many kidney transplant candidates and their donors faced. The process of living kidney donation often means paying many thousands of dollars out-of-pocket, and though her brother bore those costs himself, many living donors cannot. So, she deliberated on this: How might UnitedHealth Group support living donors?
Then she jumped into action. After approaching Dr. Jon Friedman, then the chief medical officer of Medical Benefit Management at Optum, she learned he also felt strongly about the need to remove financial barriers for living donor transplants.
These two paired up and The HERO (Helping Employees Receive Organs) Program™ was launched in 2020.
This first-of-its-kind program provides up to $12,000 in financial support (lost wages, travel, and lodging) to individuals outside UnitedHealth Group who donate a kidney, liver, or bone marrow to a company employee or family member enrolled in an eligible employer-sponsored medical plan.
Andrea feels fortunate that her personal and professional passions overlap in that Venn diagram sweet spot. “It is so meaningful to marry these passions,” she said. “I’ve always believed we never heal alone. The power of healing within a community is magical.”
We can bet that the beneficiaries of The HERO Program agree.
Today, Andrea is living a full and healthy life compliments of Pete’s kidney, and she’s quick to articulate that his miraculous gift remains top of mind. Her gratitude is continuous—for the gift of energy to keep up with two busy children, her husband, her career, and her extended loving family. At its essence, she is grateful for the gift of life.
This story has many heroes. Pete gave Andrea the generous gift of life, and Andrea paid it forward so others could walk the same path a little easier. Theirs is a story of generosity multiplied. Inspired by Andrea and her family, perhaps we should all ask ourselves, how can we pay the kindnesses we receive today, no matter how big or small, forward tomorrow?
Editor's Note: In 2022, NKF announced a strategic partnership with the American Society of Transplantation called the Living Donor Circle of Excellence- an employer recognition program that celebrates organizations who provide salary support to living donors. By implementing a policy to support the lost wages of a living donor employee, employers can join the Circle of Excellence and demonstrate a clear commitment to saving lives. To learn more about how to implement this lifesaving benefit at your company, visit: www.kidney.org/circle-excellence