Iowa Donor Network helps family through the unthinkable

Fort Atkinson family recalls son’s life, decision to save lives as an organ donor

Vicki Pavlovec of Fort Atkinson will never forget the phone call that no parent wants to receive. As a cardiopulmonary nurse, she was getting ready for work when the call came. Her son Andy, an avid cyclist, living near Coralville, had been struck as he biked to pick up donuts for his sons, who were 11 and 14 at the time.  
“It was very sudden,” she recalled. “They said it was a head injury and there had been a lot of blood; so, I imagined the worst on the two-hour drive down.” 
Vicki and her husband, Dan, arrived at the University of Iowa Hospital while Andy was in surgery. Shortly after the surgery, they received the news that Andy would not make it. 
He was 36 years old. 
Before even processing the news, Dan said he knew Andy would want to be an organ donor. Shortly after, a social worker approached them and told them Andy was already a registered donor.
“That was just like him, always generous,” Vicki said. “He made it easier for us because we didn’t have to make the decision.” 
“It took this big pressure off our shoulders,” Dan added. “We didn’t have to think about that.”
During the 24-hour period to see if Andy would respond, the family, including Andy’s sons Evan and Riehle, and his brothers, gathered together. Vicki feared how to explain the organ donation news to Andy’s youngest, Riehle, who was only 11 at the time. 
“I just had the biggest fear in how to explain that,” Vicki said. “The social worker Mercedes helped us so much. We had talked about how Andy was a passionate recycler, so she explained the donation in terms of recycling. It just resonated with Riehle.”
Mercedes helped Andy’s boys understand their dad wanted to recycle his organs to keep other people living. After that conversation, both Andy’s sons were adamant that their dad would be able to recycle his organs as he wished. 
Andy’s lungs had been damaged, and as they waited for those to heal, the family treasured the additional time they got with him. His sons held his hand and spent the weekend with him. Evan brought dad’s favorite books and read to him at his bedside.
“That was helpful and healing,” Vicki said. “The social workers did so much making a horrible situation a little easier. They were so compassionate and kind.”
Andy’s heart, lungs, liver and kidneys were donated. 
Andy’s family and friends signed up as donors online if they weren’t already registered. They also began to talk about their wishes.
“Andy had this huge impact on people signing up,” Vicki said. “Not only did he save others with the five organs he was able to give, but the people his story motivated to sign up as donors is one thing that gives us peace and hope.” 
“Part of Andy lives on in those recipients,” Dan said. “Their loved ones will get to have them in their lives.” 
Since then, the Iowa Donor Network has continued to support the Pavlovec family with invites for grief support groups and resources. As Andy’s parents continue to process their grief, they continue to share Andy’s story. 
“The boys miss their dad so much,” Vicki said. “Someone referred to their dad as a hero, and they just lit up. It has helped them find a purpose in all this. We feel so grateful to have that experience with Iowa Donor Network. All of them were wonderful.”  
Based in North Liberty, Iowa Donor Network is an accredited and federally certified organization serving the state of Iowa as a member of a nationwide organ procurement network.
Its functions are many, including coordination with healthcare professionals, funeral directors and others in the donation process, as well as education and support for grieving donor families. In addition, when a candidate for organ donation becomes available, Iowa Donor Network notifies a central agency, which determines donation recipients based on several factors including tissue type and distance. Iowa Donor Network then facilitates delivery of the donated organs.
Anyone may register as an organ, eye, and tissue donor, regardless of age or medical history. To join the donor registry or to learn more, visit, or call 800-831-4131.