Corporate pilot donates ‘spare part’

 - March 28, 2007, 5:54 AM

For a pilot, there are many ways to describe heroism; risking one’s health and possibly career to alleviate the suffering of another certainly ranks among the definitions. Dale Hofstetter, 49, a corporate pilot for St. Louis-based Monsanto, did just that in January when he donated a kidney to the son of one of the company’s flight administration staff.

Hofstetter, a professional pilot for nearly 30 years, first noticed 15-year-old Jackson Simmons at the corporate hangar last summer, while the boy waited for his mother to take him to a dialysis appointment. Hofstetter then learned the boy suffered from congenital kidney failure and that three years ago his body had rejected the donor kidney he had received soon after birth.

Having an uncommon blood type, the teen was a difficult match for a new donor kidney. Upon hearing this, Hofstetter began some careful consideration. “I’ve got O negative blood, and I have periodically given platelets and blood, and being O negative, people like the Red Cross and other hospitals think that’s gold, so I got to thinking, maybe I’m a good match,” he said. “I went looking at it that way and lo and behold, I was a match.”

Hofstetter’s wife initially had reservations about his decision. “The first thing she said was, ‘What about your daughter?’ I look at my daughter, she’s in perfect health, she’s just beautiful,” Hofstetter replied. “I would hope somebody else would pony up if she needed a kidney.”

After four months of detailed medical testing, Hofstetter was approved for the donation. The surgery was performed on January 12. Three weeks later he was given clearance to return to work, flying the company’s Hawkers and Citation Encore.
As far as the FAA is concerned, pilots who have donated a kidney are not a concern as long as the rest of their body is healthy, and Hofstetter expects no difficulties at his next physical.

When asked about what his decision could have meant for
his career, Hofstetter prefers to look within himself. “I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t fly, but for me not to have tried, what if I was a match and didn’t do anything? I had to give it a shot and that was meant to be in the big picture, I guess.”

As for Jackson, after a rough first month he is now doing “great,” according his mother, Jacqueline, who is still amazed at Hofstetter’s kindness. “How can you thank somebody who gave your son his life back? Your son is not feeling good half his life, and not able to do things that normal 15-year-olds do. It’s beyond words. You can thank the person, and we have, but that’s not even enough. We’re just grateful and Jackson is happy, and Dale’s always going to be a part of his life.”