1 of 5
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Julie Neuberger, a kidney recipient, hugs friends after speaking about organ donation during an Intermountain Donor Services press conference in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019.

SALT LAKE CITY — Eight months ago Toby Sausedo was planning a funeral, something he often did at his job with Wasatch Lawn Mortuary. But this funeral was different — it was his own.

He was dying of liver failure, and his condition had rapidly worsened from April to May.

"I was in a nosedive," Sausedo said. "Really, I didn't think I was going to live. We had purchased our cemetery property and made the funeral arrangements — all that. About 12 of my friends flew in to have a barbecue to say goodbye."

At the same time, another family was going through a medical emergency of their own. Their father, Jodie Simmons, was in the hospital, dying.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Laura Stringer listens to Toby Sausedo speak during an Intermountain Donor Services press conference in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. Sausedo received Stringer's father's donated liver.

"On May 27 I got a call that he was in the hospital," said Laura Stringer, Simmons' daughter. "It wasn't good."

Three days after that call and eight months ago Wednesday, Sausedo received Simmons' liver.

"My dad was a very giving man," Stringer said. "He'd literally given the shoes off his feet and the shirt off his back to people who didn't have or that needed."

Stringer and Sausedo shared their stories Wednesday at a news conference held by Intermountain Donor Services to highlight its record-breaking year for transplants.

In 2018, 403 lives were saved from organ transplants in Utah, a 14 percent increase from 2017 and a record for Utah.

"But I don't really want to focus on the numbers," said Tracy Schmidt, president of Intermountain Donor Services. The focus was instead on how these transplants "play out on an individual level," he said.

Julie Neuberger's husband, Christopher Neuberger, died in December from heart attack complications and she is the recipient of two kidney transplants herself.

"Both of my kidneys were the most selfless, beautiful gift that anyone could ever receive or even imagine receiving," she said at the press conference.

While Christopher Neuberger's driver's license didn't indicate he was an organ donor, his family chose to donate his organs knowing he "would've said yes in a heartbeat."

His kidneys, liver and lungs were donated and saved the lives of a mother, a musician, a snowboarder, a social worker and a public worker, Neuberger said.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Laura Stringer wipes a tear after speaking during an Intermountain Donor Services press conference in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. Stringer had her father's organs donated.

She thanked the service for not only giving her a second and third chance at life, but for helping "save five precious lives" with her husband's organs.

Neuberger, who works at the University of Utah, said it brought her family some comfort knowing his organs helped save others' lives.

"I cannot begin to express the devastation we all felt to learn that our beloved son, husband, father, brother and friend was not coming home again," she said. "This man had so much more life to live and lessons to teach us and Intermountain Donor Services gave us another purpose for Christopher's life."

Stringer echoed the same idea.

"I feel like being able to donate my dad's kidneys and liver has really helped the grieving process for me and my family when it comes to grieving my father's passing," she said.

Comment on this story

Sausedo said he hoped their stories helped encourage people to mark "yes" on their driver's licenses for organ and tissue donation.

"You'll never regret it, your family will never regret it," he said. "You're saving lives, you're making lives better."

There are more than 123,000 people across the nation waiting for organs and more than 750 are in Utah, according to Utah Donor Registry.

Correction: An earlier version incorrectly identified Jodie Simmons as Jodie Stringer.