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Former UK softball player Beth Burbridge trying to help save even more lives

Former UK softball player Beth Burbridge trying to help save even more lives

LEXINGTON, Ky. (BVM) – Beth Burbridge never expected to help save a life one day. After her softball career at the University of Kentucky where she left as one of the program leaders in at-bats, hits, runs and steals (though she’s been bumped from the top 10 in most, she is still ranked No. 4 in career steals under her maiden name Beth Fogle), Burbridge joined the working world with her degree in business administration. Now, Burbridge works as a National Application Analyst for a non-profit hospital and is married with three children. A pretty normal post-college life, except when it wasn’t. 

During her time with the Wildcats, Burbridge was one of the best players in program history, making her way up career lists and still ranking No. 4 in career steals. (Credit: UK Athletics)

In 2019, during a rather mundane day in Burbridge’s life, the former softball standout was doing what most Americans do after getting their kids off to school – scrolling through social media. It was during this rather normal task something abnormal caught Burbridge’s eye: a post by a neighbor whose son was dying and in need of a kidney transplant. After reading his story, Burbridge would make a decision that would change two lives; saving one and redirecting another.

“I sat down and started scrolling the Facebook feed as I think probably a lot of people do, just a moment of quiet, and I came across my neighbor’s post explaining their situation,” Burbridge said. “I honestly don’t even know why I clicked on the post to ‘read more.’ Usually I only have a couple of minutes so I browse through friends posts, pet posts and that kind of stuff and for whatever reason I clicked to read a little bit more.”

Driven by the maternal question of, ‘What if this were one of my sons?’ and after discussions with her husband, Burbridge decided to go through testing where she found she could donate one of her kidneys to help the boy. 

“When I saw the pictures of their son doing the same stuff my boys do, all of the same things my boys do on a typical day, the pictures could’ve been my boys and that’s what really got me,” Burbridge said. “I kept thinking, ‘This could be one of my kids.’ I can’t imagine the thought of these parents having to watch their child basically slowly die and not be able to help them. My mind kept going back to those pictures and the thought that this could be my children and our scenario.”

She would go through with the surgery and she would save a life.

Burbridge surprised the recipient’s mother with cupcakes announcing she was a match to help the woman’s son. (Courtesy: Beth Burbridge)

“It was the absolute best. It was the best feeling. The best experience,” Burbridge said. “I had cupcakes made because everything should be a celebration with cupcakes and I got to take the cupcakes to [his] mom and she broke down crying. It was an emotional experience for both of us, for two moms. Me being a mom and getting to tell another mom ‘Hey I’m going to be able to save your son’s life’ was an unforgettable experience. .. I still get chills thinking about that day and what it meant to both of our families.”

However, Burbridge’s donation story only just begins there.

Right before her surgery, Burbridge was told by her company that her procedure would be considered elective, meaning that she’d have to use her accumulated time off to recover, but nothing more. This meant that any other rest days she’d need would go as unpaid, something a mother with a family cannot afford. So, Burbridge had six days, the amount of paid time off she built up to that point, to recover when her recommended recovery time from her kidney procedure was supposed to be a month or in some cases even longer.

“It went from a situation where I was really just elated, excited about helping out this other family to incredibly worried about my capabilities to return back in the time period I needed to be back,” Burbridge said. “I donated my kidney on Tuesday. I was off pain killers by Thursday night. I didn’t experience the type of pain I mentally prepared myself for. I think as a former athlete you’re kind of able to dig deep when you need to.”

 

After going through with her donation, Burbridge discovered she’d only have six days to recover without losing pay. The recovery window is usually four to six weeks. (Courtesy: Beth Burbridge)

This set Burbridge’s life down a new path. Burbridge became an advocate for living organ and bone marrow donors to help reduce the fear and barriers potential candidates have over procedures. In 2020, the state of Kentucky passed a law that gave state employees a separate paid leave for living organ and bone marrow donation and soon after the Lexington and Louisville metropolitan areas passed similar legislation. Burbridge credits her time with Kentucky softball, playing for a team, as being critical for her success helping the laws get passed.

 

“I know I lean on my experiences as a student-athlete to help propel me to make these changes,” Burbridge said. “For every season, I failed seven times in every 10 at-bats. I made it in three, but I’d fail seven times and I think having that experience of failure and knowing you can come back from it is what helps with advocacy.

“I haven’t won every scenario that I’ve come to with advocacy. I’m still working on others. But I think as an athlete that’s something you learn, how to work with others that maybe you don’t agree with all the time and how you keep pushing even if you don’t get results the first time you come back. It’s the same thing with advocacy.”

However, this wasn’t enough for Burbridge. She continues to fight for those waiting for potentially life-saving organ donations.

On Jan. 4, House Bill 47 (HB-47) was introduced to the state’s House of Representatives. The goal of the bill is to provide a tax credit to private employers that offer their employees a separate paid leave for living organ and bone marrow donation to incentivize employers to adopt the paid leaves. If it passes, the decision could change and save thousands of lives in Kentucky as it would give potential donors the cushion of paid time off to go out and donate organs or bone marrow to help the cause.

According to Organ Procurement and Transplant data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Kentucky alone has 989 candidates waiting for organ donations for such organs as kidneys, livers, pancreases, hearts and lungs. The hope would be that more positive legislation for donors would provide an increase in donations thus reducing the number of candidates year over year. More or less giving people the security to help save a life.

Burbridge is still fighting for donor rights and is pushing Kentucky legislators to adopt SB-47 to encourage private businesses to help increase living donations across the state (Courtesy: Beth Burbridge)

On Jan. 25, Burbridge was joined by fellow donors, transplant recipients and doctors in an open online forum to discuss the bill and its potential impact with state lawmakers by telling their stories and answering any questions. This meeting will hopefully only be the start of the ongoing discourse between state legislators and those who will be affected by their decision. 

“I think it went really well,” Burbridge said. “It opened an opportunity for more individuals to share their stories as well. … It was a really mind blowing experience for me because so often it’s easy to feel like this is my story and here are all the different pieces of it. But to hear other people’s stories and the impact on other individuals, especially on recipients, really sheds on what we’re doing and trying to make it better for them.”

No, Burbridge did not expect to save a life. She played collegiate softball and graduated with a degree in business administration. She wasn’t a doctor, a firefighter or even in the medical field, but she helped save a life. If HB-47 gets passed, Burbridge can potentially help save many more.

“The biggest win I don’t think I’ve gotten there yet,” Burbridge said. “I don’t think I’ve done my greatest one yet and I think the coolest thing about it, and anybody who’s played on a team would agree, the wins are these wonderful team wins. So they’re not just my win, it’s this team we now built that is as invested as me. … We’re not to our biggest win yet, but when we do we have this fantastic team of individuals just trying to look out and make it better for other folks in the future that choose to donate either an organ or bone marrow.”

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