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Leet foundation golf outing to help shed light on pediatric organ donation

| Wednesday, July 2, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
Siblings Stephen, Tay and Sandra King display a sign on June 26 inside their Leet home, featuring a picture of their brother Kristopher, who died in 2008. The fourth annual golf outing to benefit the Kristopher King Foundation — a nonprofit that raises awareness about pediatric organ donation — will take place on July 12.

On October 9, 2008, Maureen Sleber and her family made a decision that saved them from the brink of despair.

Sleber's adopted son Kristopher King was on life support in Children's Hospital after a shunt in his skull collapsed in late September.

When it became clear that he wouldn't recover, a family member suggested that King, 19, a Quaker Valley student, become an organ donor.

“When Kristopher died, it was unexpected,” said Sleber, of Leet.

“If someone hadn't suggested organ donations, I'm not sure we would have gotten through it.”

After King died, his family started the Kristopher King Foundation, a nonprofit that works to increase pediatric organ donation through education and awareness.

The foundation will host its fourth annual golf outing on July 12 at the Quicksilver Golf Club in Midway. All proceeds will benefit group's effort to display messages on billboards across Pennsylvania — and eventually the country — to increase awareness about pediatric organ donation. So far, the group has displayed messages on two billboards, one in West Virginia, and one in Bellevue.

Although the Center for Organ Recovery and Education strives to educate families in hospitals about the option of pediatric organ donation, it often is too late by the time the decision is made.

“Them raising awareness for pediatric donation is absolutely phenomenal,” said Michelle Christianson, who is in charge of the donor family program at CORE. “There's a need for pediatric donations. Not that you want a child to pass away, but when that times comes, people need to have that awareness.”

The subject of pediatric organ donation has been a controversial one for some people, Sleber said. A times, a stigma has surrounded organizations such as CORE, with the perception that they view potential donors as little more than the organs that can be salvaged to help other people.

But that is just one of many stereotypes that the Kristopher King Foundation is striving to abolish.

“There are so many misconceptions that people have, but CORE couldn't have been more supportive,” Sleber said. When the decision was made for King to become an organ donor, he had to be transported to UPMC Presbyterian for the surgery because Children's was not equipped for the procedure. But since then, the Kristopher King Foundation has worked to open that possibility for future patients at Children's.

“In the time that Kristopher has passed away until now, things have changed a little bit,” Christianson said. “There are more pediatric donors and I think hospitals are more prepared for that now.”

. A bronze plaque in King's memory and literature on pediatric organ donations on the sixth floor of the hospital, across from the library, with the hope that families will be led to make the same decision that Sleber's did.

“I have a friend who always says, ‘You can be bitter or better,'” Sleber said, “and we chose better.”

Gary Horvath is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

Reach him at ghorvath@tribweb.com or via Twitter @GHorvath_Trib.

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