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“The Professor with Two Hearts”

Dr. Volk,

Peter Lenz

Dr. Volk, "The Professor with Two Hearts."

Peter Lenz, Staff Reporter

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At UW-La Crosse, whether a student is in the REC center, Murphy Library or a classroom, influential moments can be found around every corner. One UW-L professor consistently offers students more than just academic inspiration; they offer a whole new appreciation for life itself. That professor is Dr. Tom Volk, otherwise known as “The Professor with Two Hearts.”

Dr. Volk is an internationally recognized Mycologist, a scientist that specializes in the study of fungi, mold, and mushrooms. When students sign up for one of the many classes that Dr. Volk offers they expect to learn about organismal biology or mycology but are left with much more than just scientific knowledge. “Having Dr. Volk as a professor has taught me what the real value of knowledge is,” says UW-L senior Dave Turkowitch, “Dr. Volk’s high expectations for his students, paired with his easygoing wittiness provides a great educational environment.”

Despite Dr. Volk’s easygoing teaching style, it has not always been easy for him to stay upbeat and positive. In 1997, Professor Volk was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, which he battled and sent into remission. However, due to the radiation treatments Volk’s heart soon became enlarged and relied on a defibrillator to maintain a healthy heartbeat. Dr. Volk’s problems didn’t end there. He soon after contracted flesh-eating bacteria that devastated his legs and feet. Volk triumphed over the bacteria in a few months, but it wasn’t long before Mayo told him that his defibrillator was weakening his heart and he needed a heart transplant to survive.

Volk said that hearing about the surgery was quite an eye opener, “When they tell you that you need a major operation that’s pretty scary cause you don’t know what’s going to happen, you don’t know if you’re going to die from it or not.” Volk was put on the donor list in January of 2006 and received a phone call from Mayo on May 21st, 2006 confirming that there was a heart ready for him. “I wasn’t ready for that,” Volk described, “I went to the ICU for a tour just a week before and they said ‘see you in a year.’” That next week Volk’s students picked him up and drove him to the clinic for his life-saving heart transplant.

Volk’s organ donor not only donated their heart but also donated their lungs to allow Volk’s neighbor at Mayo to survive. Dr. Volk now encourages students to become donors themselves. He estimates that around 80-90 percent of his students are signed up to become organ donors. Volk says that it is just as important to talk with your family as it is to sign up.

“They are the ones that, god forbid something happens to you, decide whether to do it or not.” Volk elaborates, “If it is in writing and you talk to them they are more likely to commit than if you just put it on your driver’s license.”

Volk’s story has encouraged many UW-L students to become organ donors. Senior Jake Kellet says, “He influenced me to become a donor because he is proof of what comes out of donating. If it wasn’t for someone else he wouldn’t be here right now. To think you could save a life by doing something so simple, I don’t know why you wouldn’t.”

To sign up as an organ donor this Valentine’s day season go to https://organdonor.gov/about-dot.html  or email [email protected] for more information.

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“The Professor with Two Hearts”