Academic Scholarship Spotlight: Theresa Lackey Living Donor Scholarship

At an early age, Karen Sortor was diagnosed with kidney disease and told she would need an organ transplant one day. For much of her life, she soldiered on, but in 2000, her doctor recommended that she start preparing for a transplant to avoid dialysis. She began going through the necessary medical procedures to be placed on the transplant waiting list. She also connected with GTF at this time and opened her Transplant Fundraising Program account to begin fundraising for her transplant and spreading awareness about her need for a kidney.

One of Karen’s coworkers shared that she had a relative who needed a transplant in the past, and one of the ways they got the info out there was by creating and distributing business cards. Karen’s family and friends began helping her with her business card venture, but still, no organ had been found for her, and time was of the essence. That same coworker was at an alumni event for her alma mater, having a conversation about Karen’s situation when a woman overheard her speaking. Little did anyone know this random encounter would be the key to Karen’s second chance at life!

Theresa Lackey, the benevolent passerby, said to Karen’s coworker, “I want to know more; I’ll call you on Monday.” After hearing more about Karen’s story and realizing she could help, Theresa made the selfless decision to be Karen’s donor. Karen was shocked by Theresa’s act of kindness. When she asked Theresa if she was sure about her decision and if she was aware of the process it entailed, Theresa replied: “I don’t need to know the details; if I would be willing to do this for a family member, why would I not for a stranger who needs it.” Sure enough, in December of 2002, Karen received her new kidney, and Theresa officially became a living donor.

Karen racked her brain trying to come up with ways to repay the favor to her donor, and she realized what she had to do when Theresa expressed her desire to return to school and pursue a career change. Karen and her family decided to sponsor a GTF Academic Scholarship to help living donors pursue their degrees. The scholarship was appropriately named the Theresa Lackey Living Donor Scholarship in her honor. Theresa was able to graduate with the help of the scholarship, went on to get married, and kept in touch with Karen.

The scholarship didn’t end with Theresa and is still being given out yearly to this day. Karen shared that “it’s an awesome way to give back, to be able to provide a little something for their sacrifices and compassion.” She singled out former recipient Ty Olson as an example of why she and her family continue to fund the scholarship. Ty elected to be the living donor to his mother when she needed a kidney transplant and had no qualms about it. “For him to do that for his mother, it’s incredible that somebody so young would step up to the plate like that,” Karen shared, “he deserves the world.”

For Ty, “the idea of starting college after [his] surgery was never-wracking…. But much of that stress was relieved due to the [Theresa Lackey] scholarship. GTF gave [him] peace of mind and a brighter future.” With the help of the scholarship, Ty was able to go on to graduate, an honor he deserved, particularly for stepping up to be his mother’s hero.

2023 recipient Jordan Richardson is now taking online classes thanks to the scholarship, sharing that she is “very grateful for GTF and this scholarship that has helped [her] pursue a college degree and has taken financial stress off of [her] shoulders.” “It’s a reminder that you should never give up, and God’s got you.”

The Theresa Lackey Living Donor Scholarship is just one of the many academic scholarships GTF offers each year. To learn more about GTF’s Academic Scholarships, please visit Applications are open January 1st through May 1st each year.