A Heart of GOLD: At age 16, Greg Trautman made the decision to become an organ donor. At 21, he helped save the life of a man 'out his back door.'
By Cari Quam
When her children got their driver's licenses, Dorle Blackwell left it up to them to become organ donors.
Her son, Greg Trautman, decided to become one at 16.
"It's a selfless act," said Blackwell, who is also an organ donor. "You don't ever think you're going to use that."
But her son did nearly two years ago when at age 21 he was involved in a fatal car accident.
His death brought life to four other people, including a man who lives just 43 miles from where Trautman grew up in rural Cosmos.
"Just because it's a tragedy for you doesn't mean you can't help somebody else," Blackwell said.
Trautman had a heart of gold, Blackwell said.
He loved spending time with family and friends and being outdoors, she said. He was a free spirit who sagged his jeans and covered his sandy blond hair with bandanas, she said. Blackwell, a pilot, said Trautman was the only one of her children who would fly with her.
Every morning Trautman would give his mom a hug and tell her he loved her.
"You don't find that many 21-year-olds who are that sensitive," Blackwell said.
Trautman, a 2002 Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City High School graduate, was working for a cabinet company in Waconia and living at home before the accident. The Blackwells were planning to move to Arizona, and Trautman was going to go with them and start attending college.
He grew up with two families and was fiercely loyal to all of them, Blackwell said. His father lives in Hutchinson. Blackwell's husband, Jim, had been Trautman's stepfather since he was 2 years old.
"Nobody dared say anything bad about us because we were his family," she said.
On Dec. 4, 2004, Trautman tried to pass another vehicle on state Highway 7 near Waconia and collided with another vehicle. He was brought to Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, where he died two days later.
His kidneys, liver, heart and eyes were transplanted. Other organs and tissue were donated for research.
"He saved four people," Blackwell said. "He's my hero."
Mark Geer, 36, of New London was born with a defect that prevented his heart from pumping blood properly. He underwent a procedure as a baby to improve it, but his heart pumped as if it had three chambers, he said.
He tired easily, he said, but grew up enjoying hunting, fishing and working on cars. In the 1990s, he began racing at the Kandi Racing Association Speedway in Willmar.
But his health worsened in 2000. He was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and was put on medication to keep him stable.
He married his wife, Linda, in 2002. She said he was doing fine when they first met.
Things changed in the spring of 2004.
Mark and Linda were watching television when he broke out into a cold sweat. His blood pressure had dropped to 60/40. He was taken to St. Cloud Hospital, where doctors installed a pacemaker and put him on more medication.
In August of that year, his health declined again and he was added to the heart transplant list. He was admitted to the University of Minnesota Hospital on Aug. 17.
While there, he was put on a low-sodium, low-fat diet. He retained fluids, and his kidneys were starting to fail. He couldn't sleep well because breathing was difficult.
The Geers said they didn't pray for a new heart, though, because they knew what that meant for another family.
"Praying for a donor was like praying for someone to die," Linda said.
"We just couldn't do that," Mark added.
The doctors told Mark they were going to put him on a heart pump on Dec. 8, "which is close to being on a machine," Linda said.
Mark didn't want that.
But on Dec. 6, the Geers were told a heart might be available. They were relieved and scared.
"You're glad because you're feeling so horrible," Mark said. "At the same time you're scared because this is a major surgery."
Geer received the transplant Dec. 7. The doctors told them it was a perfect match.
He was released from the hospital Dec. 17 -- four months after he was first admitted. He had some complications at first, but has been fine since. He hasn't gone back to racing or working because he doesn't want to jeopardize his health.
But he said he has more energy now than ever.
Blackwell wanted to know more about the people who had received her son's organs, but left it up to the donor recipients to contact her first. LifeSource, the Upper Midwest Organ Procurement Organization, sent her a letter about a month after Trautman's death, telling her the ages of the people who had received his organs.
Blackwell heard from one of the kidney recipients and from the man who received Trautman's liver. She really wanted to know more about the man who received his heart.
Geer said he wanted to write Trautman's family but it never seemed like the right time. He finally decided no time would be perfect and sent Blackwell a letter 17 months after the transplant.
"I wrote back that weekend and mailed it on Monday because I just couldn't believe it," Blackwell said of receiving his letter.
They also found out they lived in the same area. Mark wrote that he was willing to meet.
"You don't expect them to be out your back door," Blackwell said.
They set up a meeting this past Memorial Day. The Geers and Mark's mother and Dorle and Jim Blackwell met at Robbins Island Park in Willmar. Both sides were nervous for the meeting.
They ended up talking for two hours. They found Trautman and Geer had a lot in common, such as hunting, fishing and a sense of humor.
"It doesn't make it easier, but there's some comfort there just knowing they appreciate this gift," Blackwell said.
Geer told the Blackwells he is willing to meet with any of Trautman's family members. Trautman's half-sister Cassondra Blackwell and grandfather Delaino Schafer are thinking about meeting him, and Blackwell is thankful for Geer's openness.
"This Mark guy has a heart of gold," she said.