Superior boy’s train trip highlights organ donation

A Superior family celebrated a cousin's selfless gift last week during a train ride through the Canadian Rockies. The Rocky Mountaineer Train for Heroes brought organ recipients and donor families together to meet, share and be rejuvenated. It al...

Superior transplant recipient Jackson Beattie, left, spends time with his cousin Brett during a recent trip on the Rocky Mountaineer Train for Heroes. Brett donated his kidney to Jackson, who was born with stage 4 chronic kidney disease. (Photo courtesy of Rocky Mountaineer)

A Superior family celebrated a cousin’s selfless gift last week during a train ride through the Canadian Rockies.

The Rocky Mountaineer Train for Heroes brought organ recipients and donor families together to meet, share and be rejuvenated. It also raised awareness of the need for donors.

“The emotions on the train have been crazy, happy and sad at the same time,” said Dave Beattie, who took the trip with his wife Sara, daughter Brooklyn, 3-year-old son, Jackson and family hero Brett Beattie.

Jackson was born with stage 4 chronic kidney disease.

“Jackson suffered from severe nausea, he threw up six to eight times a day,” Sara said. He had to be fed through a feeding tube. “He always felt sick since the day he was born.”


The Superior boy’s cousin, Brett, stepped up to donate a kidney to the tyke in 2012.

“Being part of this family, it was a pretty easy decision,” Brett said. Although it left the college student hospitalized for five days, Brett said, “It’s completely worth it. You’re not only saving someone else’s life, you’re changing your own for the better.

“I appreciate every day more than before.”

The donation sparked a transformation in Jackson, especially his energy level.

“Now he’s non-stop,” Dave said, and he keeps Brett within arm’s distance whenever his cousin is around. The two often toss footballs and Frisbees back and forth. Last week, donor and recipient spent time throwing rocks into Lake Louise together. There will come a time when Jackson needs another transplant, but his parents said Brett’s kidney could last as long as 30 years. Right now, the 3-year-old is focusing on the more immediate future. When asked what he was going to be for Halloween this year, Jackson said “Four.” His birthday is Oct. 30.

“We’ve been blessed,” Sara said, and now they hope to pay it forward. To that end, the family participates in the annual kidney walk in Duluth. Their team, Keepin’ it Renal, has raised more than $75,000 in the past four years, a fair chunk of it raised by Brooklyn. Part of the focus of the train ride was to encourage 5,000 people to sign the organ donor registry.

Being on the train was an amazing experience, the family said. In addition to watching the mountains roll past and relaxing beside Lake Louise, they connected with families going through similar issues.

“Some donor families were meeting recipient families for the first time,” Dave said. “It touches every piece of organ donation.”


It’s something people don’t see or think about much, he said.

In the United States, more than 123,000 people are awaiting transplant organs; about a third of them need kidneys, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. An average of 18 people die each day waiting for an organ that doesn’t become available in time. Some people have been waiting for years, and a single donor can touch up to four lives with their gift.

Registering is a simple, five-minute process, Dave said. Just go to and sign up. It’s also important to have a conversation with your family to let them know your wishes regarding donation, Sara said.

People can also opt to become a living donor, like Brett, and donate a kidney or part of a liver. To do so, Sara said, you can find somebody who needs one or just walk into a transplant center to volunteer.

The trip has been part vacation, part outreach.

“It’s rejuvenated us and we feel we have more to do,” Sara said. “Especially after meeting the people here, we know the need is great.”

Other participants in the hero train included snowboarder Chris Klug, who suffered from a terminal liver condition. Eighteen months after he received a liver transplant, Klug won a bronze medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics. Also on the train were Marc McCay of the United Kingdom and the family of Martin Burton, whose heart beats in McCay’s chest. The transplant happened when both boys were teens. The Thackeray family of Canada had a double transplant story to share. Mom Saylynn received a heart transplant at age 14. One of her twin daughters, Shylynn, received a heart transplant when she was 2.

 “We’re hoping to keep in touch with everyone,” Sara said. “You don’t want to lose touch after an experience like this.”


For more information on Jackson and his transplant journey, follow the Facebook page Hope for Jackson Beattie. To sign the organ donor registry, go to or . More information on the train trip and the heroes who took it, look it up online at .


Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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