CARBONDALE — Jessica Sergeev describes her late husband, Ivan, as someone who was concerned about his health, full of life and vitality, enjoyed helping others and always encouraged her to be more health-conscious and eat more vegetables.
In the summer of 2014, Ivan, a healthy 26-year-old, had a stroke. Doctors told the young couple that Ivan had a malformation of blood vessels in his brain, something that happened as his body developed before birth.
So, doctors and staff at St. Louis University Hospital developed a plan to go in and fix the problem. Ivan suffered another stroke during surgery and never recovered.
Jessica Sergeev, who had married Ivan a mere 22 months earlier, had to make decisions about his medical care. She now calls staff at St. Louis University her “army.” They fought long and hard to save Ivan’s life.
“They sat with my husband’s family from Russia and the translator and made sure everyone understood what was happening,” Jessica Sergeev said. “When I felt like we reached our last resort, doctors would not talk about organ donation. They called in Mid-Amerca Transplant Services.”
Jessica and Ivan Sergeev had talked about organ donation. Ivan even signed up to donate.
Illinois has a first-person organ donation system, meaning you can choose to donate your organs and sign up, sparing loved ones from making those decisions at the time of death.
“I remember MTS staff sitting with me and talking about life. For them to take that time was the ultimate kindness,” Jessica Sergeev said.
During this process, Jessica Sergeev learned more about organ donation. To be able to donate, a person has to be declared dead, which is when the brain or heart no longer functions. Doctors still do everything within their power to save lives. In Ivan’s case, they were so invested in saving his life, they would not talk to her about donating his organs.
Jessica Sergeev said she never expected to have to make life-and-death decisions for her 26-year-old husband. She said Ivan was trying to get into medical school at the time of his death, and she knew he would want to help people.
“Ivan signed up to be an organ donor on his own. It was reassuring that he made the choice,” she said. “The fact he had taken the initiative and wanted to help other people live full lives has helped me.”
Jessica Sergeev is (and Ivan was) a member of The Vine Church in Carbondale. While Ivan was fighting for his life in St. Louis, another member of the church was waiting for lifesaving a kidney transplant. When a friend reminded Jessica of him, she asked MTS staff if she could designate one of Ivan’s kidneys for him.
If Ivan’s kidney was a match, the recipient would have to meet other criteria. If he met those criteria, he could receive the kidney. Ivan was a match, and a member of their church family lives a full life because of Ivan’s decision.
“It has been a comfort for me to see that life still goes on, literally,” Jessica Sergeev said.
Her friend travels with his family and coaches soccer, things he would not have been able to do while on dialysis.
But, even organ donation is not the end of this young couple’s story.
A memorial service was planned for Ivan on Aug. 15, 2014. Jessica, who was staying with a friend, woke up a little nauseated. She explained that she had taken a pregnancy test while Ivan was in the hospital because of nausea, but it was negative. She thought the stress of the situation was the root of the problem.
Since she had another test, she decided to take one more test. This time the results were positive.
“It was the best and worst at the same time. I attribute the timing to God,” Jessica Sergeev said.
She calls her 3-year-old son God’s gift to her and their family, as well as a continuation of their story. It has helped keep her connected to Ivan’s family in Russia. She said you can’t keep grandparents away from their grandchildren, even when they are from Russia to Carbondale apart.
Jessica looks forward to the day when she can tell her son that his daddy was a hero and saved lives.
“It’s been an awful ride, but I’m glad God put these people on this roller coaster with me to hold my hand,” Jessica Sergeev said. “I would encourage everyone who would consider organ donation to sign up.”
In 2017, 718 organs were transplanted from 223 local donors saving a record number of lives in the region Mid-America Transplant Services covers. That number includes 312 kidneys, 181 livers, 139 lungs, 59 hearts, 24 pancreases and three intestines. An additional 93,000 people received tissue transplants.
In Illinois, register to be an organ donor at lifegoeson.com.