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Katie McKee

Using Gifts to Serve Community is Foundational for Mayo Clinic Transplant Administrator Katie McKee

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In her roles with both organ transplantation and organ donation organizations, Katie McKee, MPH, has been connected to her lifelong purpose of serving the community that was instilled in her by her parents when she was a child.

In late February, McKee transitioned from her role as director of hospital development and family care at LifeSource in Minneapolis to become the operations administrator for transplant at the Mayo Clinic Transplant Center where she will serve in partnership with Center Director Dr. Julie K. Heimbach.

McKee is chair of the Organ Donation and Transplantation Alliance (The Alliance) National Donation Leadership Council. The Council has identified inconsistent practices in First Person Authorization (FPA) as one of the key opportunities to improve across the continuum and has launched a survey to gather current organizational practices and policies. The Council plans to develop a guide to establish greater uniformity regarding FPA across the country.

McKee notes that the LifeSource team worked to increase their FPA fulfillment rate from 60 to 95 percent. “Core to our mission is ensuring that the generous decisions that individuals have made get carried out on their behalf,” says McKee. “We worked as internal teams and with hospital partners to shift to guidance language: ‘Your family member made this incredibly generous decision to fulfill the rare opportunity to save a life. Now we’re going to walk you through that process to honor their decision.’ Reframing conversations and developing guidance resources was really the core of the work.”

Many Of The LifeSource Team Who Brought The Meaningful FPA Changes To Fruition
Many Of The LifeSource Team Who Brought The Meaningful FPA Changes To Fruition

Profound Influence of Family

McKee grew up in the Twin Cities and after high school enrolled in Penn State’s Premedical-Medical (PMM) Program, an accelerated seven-year program with the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. While at Penn State, she became interested in public health and deferred medical school to pursue a Master of Public Health degree at Columbia.

The middle child of three, she was deeply influenced by her parents. “Both of my parents had the approach to life that we are here to be generous and to serve community,” she says. Each night at the dinner table, they asked, “How did you use your gifts to serve your community today?”

“My parents are people of faith, and I am, too,” says McKee. “This drove their commitment to serving community. The other part was a clarity that I appreciate more now than I did as a child. As complex as this life is, it’s also pretty simple: We’re here to serve each other. Faith is the foundation of how I think about everything. Across our community and across the globe there are people doing their best to serve a God that they know and acknowledging that we’re all in it together. This is what drives me.”

McKee has a reputation for establishing strong relationships and being very effective at leading cross-functional teams. But she says there is steel behind her warmth, and it comes from her sense of purpose. “I have this privilege of pretty much loving everyone I meet,” she says. “I find people to be amazing and fascinating, and so it’s a joy to get to know people and establish trust-based relationships. Whenever trust and mutual respect are present, then very candid feedback can happen. We’re here to serve. That requires seeing the good in people and carrying out the obligation we have to help each other be better.”

Hosting Plenary Panel At Donate Life Symposium
McKee Hosts a Plenary Panel at the Donate Life Symposium

In 2020, McKee gave a Connect to Purpose presentation for the LifeSource team.  She talked about her mother, a nurse practitioner, who said, ‘One gift about healthcare is that you enter into community with people in life’s sacred spaces.’ “When I think about the nurses we collaborate with in the ICU, my mom is my connect to purpose,” says McKee. She also told stories of how her father, husband, kids, father-in-law, a dialysis patient in Haiti, a hospital CEO, transplant recipients, donor families, and remarkable colleagues were among her connections to purpose.

While in Columbia’s MPH program, she worked for the Clinton Global Initiative and spent time in Haiti’s central plateau where she interacted with memorable patients affected by kidney disease. After graduating in 2007, she became an administrative fellow at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN and rotated through various departments, learning from incredible mentors in each rotation.

Path to Transplant

Following the fellowship program, she worked in Mayo Quality Management Services, where “brilliant people taught me how to think about processes and make them better. These same mentors encouraged me to complete Six Sigma Black Belt and change management certifications, methodologies that I frequently teach and lean on today.” She currently serves as a mentor in The Alliance’s Mentorship program.

“Initially I was intrigued by transplant in part because of the fascinating public health opportunity to have a population of transplant recipients who are followed so closely over time. That was my initial interest. The Mayo Transplant Center “family” welcomed me so generously, and I soon fell in love with everything about transplant and the community.”

In 2010, she attended her first organ donation breakthrough collaborative. “It was a time of extremely high momentum to better integrate hospitals, transplant centers and organ procurement organizations and there was so much excitement. To see people coming together and saying ‘we don’t have all the answers, but let’s work together to see what we can do better on behalf of patients’ was wonderful.”

In her first few years at LifeSource, she had participated in some of The Alliance’s programs. “I was continually impressed by how as an extension of the collaboratives, but in new and innovative ways, every single year The Alliance managed to be the neutral leading group to bring together all the entities, to do education, develop resources, to communicate, and to collaborate to make things better. I wanted to contribute in some way, and I applied to join a leadership council. I also worked with the late Glenn Matsuki on The Alliance’s Conversation Series.”

“I think The Alliance is the rock of the organ transplant and donation community. It’s such a gift for our industry to have a group like this who has the respect of all the players.”

Member of a Donor Family and a Donor

McKee downplays being from a donor family as well as being a donor herself. “Those experiences have been very meaningful to me, but not everyone in the donation and transplant community has the opportunity to have those experiences,” she says.

Her father, an active athlete and all-around enthusiast, died suddenly in 2018 of an undetected cardiac condition. “My dad was excited about many, many, many things, and donation was one of them. We know it would have made him so delighted to be generous through donation.”

In late 2019, McKee became a non-directed living kidney donor for a young woman. “When I planned to donate a kidney, it was not remotely part of my thought process that I would get a chance to meet the recipient, let alone the day after our procedures in our hospital rooms. But I met Abby and our family had the privilege of becoming acquainted with her whole inspiring family, some of whom are cows and goats.”

Abby & Katie 1 Day Post Transplant
McKee (2nd from left) and Abby (center), 1 Day Post-Transplant

In her previous role at Mayo, McKee got to know recipients and their families and in her role at LifeSource, she was focused on the donor families. “One thing I’ve learned in this role is that donation both saves the lives of recipients and offers legacy – the hope and healing that is so consistently found in donor families – to those who in the midst of grief choose to be generous. This deeper understanding of hope and healing through the legacy of donation has been so meaningful to me. We’ve certainly found that is true for our family, and is a piece I didn’t fully appreciate when I was working in transplant.”

Open Door Policy

McKee and her husband Matthew, who is an immigration attorney, have three children in elementary school. One goal as a family has been to have an open door which has meant that since they were married 15 years ago, they have hosted 20 plus different people living with them. In 2023, they sponsored a family of four from Ukraine to live with them. They also have an open door to animals. They share their home with Turner, a retired sled dog, along with chickens, cats, and guinea pigs.

McKee with Husband Matthew, and Children Isaac 10, Meg 8, Wendell 6
Turner The Sled Dog, Serving As A Roost For The Chickens
Turner The Sled Dog Loves His Chicken Pals

In her free time, McKee likes to hike, and she and her husband recently celebrated their 15th anniversary by doing three of the ‘Great Walks’ of New Zealand. She also frequently commuted by rollerblading 10 miles each way from her home in St. Paul to her office at LifeSource. As their kids embrace the gift of life, service in community, and seemingly countless interests, McKee is persistently trying to ensure hiking and rollerblading make the list.

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