The gift: When the card gets played
The first in a three-part series on organ donation
MARSHFIELD — Organ donation is filled with stories of heartbreak and happiness and incredible loss followed by new beginnings. During the month that reminds everyone to be thankful, Hub City Times will share the stories of local families and individuals that have been affected by organ donation and the overwhelming gratitude that results from the gift of life.
“I was the assistant principal at Wausau East,” explained Dave Schoepke. “All of the sudden my secretary came in and said ‘Hey, Schoepke, you have a little time? There is a student that wants to talk to you,’ and I said, ‘Send them in.’
“Here comes Sarah. (I) didn’t recognize that she was pregnant. I thought she was coming in for a college application reference or, ‘Can you cut me a break on my detentions?’”
What the student would ask, however, would take Schoepke by surprise and catapult him into a much larger role in the counselor-student relationship.
“She said, ‘I was wondering if you could do me a favor. … Would you adopt my baby when he is born in January?’” added Schoepke.
After talking with his wife, Nancy, Dave told the high school student that they would adopt her child.
Just three months later, Sarah gave birth to a healthy baby boy.
“We picked his name out even before he was born,” said Schoepke. “We knew his name would be Andy.
“He always knew that he was adopted. We never told him that he wasn’t.
“We move to Hewitt when he was 3. He was as a traditional kid as you would have: an A-B kid up the board, never really excelled in sports. He was just a fun-loving guy. He was a gamer. Technology was his stuff.”
After graduating from high school, Andy began taking classes at the University of Wisconsin-Marshfield/Wood County and took a position at the Marshfield Culver’s Restaurant, working his way up to a lead position.
“I don’t care who you are and how much of a person you are who thinks that you’ll never see this happen. Deep inside you as a parent I think that there is always a time where you know that the day could someday hit you,” said Dave. “Self consciously in your heart you kind of prepare yourself for that day.”
As two sheriff’s deputies stood at the Schoepkes’ door at 2 a.m. on Feb. 27, 2016, years of preparation set that defense mechanism into play as they inquired about Andy’s location.
“That’s when that card gets played,” said Schoepke.
The deputies informed the Schoepkes that they had received a call from Andy’s longtime friend Jaren who had expressed concern over Andy bringing harm to himself.
After several phone calls and a frantic search through the Schoepke home, Dave and the deputies headed to a nearby walking trail. There they found Andy, who was still breathing but suffering from a self-inflicted wound to the head.
Andy was rushed to Saint Joseph’s Hospital and placed into the intensive care unit.
“That’s a long trip you make down the hallway from the Emergency Room to the ICU,” recalled Dave. “I told Nancy that we are going to have to make a decision. I guess he is not going to make it. I know it already.”
Andy was still breathing on his own, but doctors expressed little hope for any quality of life.
Dave had not known of Andy’s pledge to become a donor until staff came into the room with proof of his anatomical gift registration.
“Nancy knew it because he had just renewed his license,” added Dave. “He said, ‘Yeah, I’ll help somebody else out.’”
The Schoepkes made the difficult decision to let Andy succumb and set the wheels into motion for donation.
“At 3 a.m. I got this call from a lady (at UW-Madison), and she said, ‘We are going to take Andy to surgery this morning. We have recipients right now waiting. We’ve got them mobilized. We’ll have surgery in the morning.’”
Dave and Nancy headed to the hospital, where they were asked to share Andy’s life with the three surgeons and staff that would provide his gift to over 60 individuals who would benefit from donation.
“As much as I want those people to live and have quality of life, I would give anything to have him sitting right here,” explained Dave. “He always wanted to help out other people. Now he is helping other people through this event too.”
Next week: A new beginning