January 11, 2016 | Stories & Profiles
My Story: I Gave Up a Kidney – and Gained a Friend
By Eileen Rooney Hausermann
In 2000, while working at the Ronald McDonald House in Burlington, Vermont, I met a 10-year-old boy named Kenny, who was waiting for a kidney transplant. That meeting changed my life in ways I never could have imagined. After learning Kenny's story, I explored becoming his donor and offered to be tested, but time was not on his side, and he died before we got very far in the process.
Fast forward to 2002 when I began to contemplate donation again. My conversation with myself went somewhat like this: "I already donate blood. I have two kidneys, and if you're healthy, you only need one. So many people need kidneys -- I just don’t happen to know any of them – but I do know that it's possible to donate a kidney anonymously."
So I reached out to the transplant coordinator at UVM Medical Center (formerly Fletcher Allen Health Care) who had worked with Kenny and his family. Vermont's only transplant center, FAHC was willing to consider an anonymous (or non-directed) donation, though they had never performed one. Once I agreed to begin testing, I never wavered in my decision, though the screening process was lengthy and at times an emotional roller coaster. Between all of the diagnostic tests a donor is required to undergo (MRIs, ultrasounds, blood tests, CAT scans) as well as the fact that the hospital was using my case to develop a standard protocol for non-directed donation, the screening took nearly two years.
On November 15, 2004, I was wheeled into surgery. In the operating room right next door was a person I had never met. I only knew that she was a female and had a husband. The procedure was 100% successful. Just 90 minutes after the kidney was removed from my body laparoscopically, it was fully functioning inside the recipient. And just ten days after the surgery, I was on the lake paddling my kayak, albeit gingerly. It’s amazing how resilient the human body can be. But the most profound part of the experience began six weeks after the surgery when I met my recipient, Jenni Dudley, for the first time.
Jenni had been diagnosed with kidney cancer at 18 months old and had one of her kidneys removed as a baby. At age 44, she developed polycystic kidney disease (PKD) in her remaining kidney. She was added to the transplant waiting list and after about a year and a half, she finally learned that an anonymous donor had come forward. (While grateful, Jenni and her husband were somewhat skeptical. A non-directed donation was not on their radar. I later learned that they had given me the nickname, "The Crazy Lady.") It was late in the summer of 2004 and Jenni was on the verge of dialysis, having hung on as long as she could by watching her diet and fluid intake. The phone had literally rung just in time.
We spent time together in ways many girlfriends and sisters do – having coffee, going shopping, seeing movies – as well as doing things most friends don’t do together – going on speaking engagements to promote organ donation. We spoke about organ donation sometimes as far away as Louisville, Kentucky, where we attended the 2005 U.S. Transplant Games (the equivalent of the Olympics for organ recipients, donors and donor families).
Jenni, in particular, threw herself into education and advocacy, meeting one-on-one with people on the organ donation waiting list and counseling them in a way that only someone who had been through it herself could do. She also started a jewelry business and donated all of her profits – into the thousands of dollars over the years -- to local organizations that support organ donation, mainly a group called Earth Angels.
Sadly, Jenni passed away in 2014 from colon cancer. I am honored to have known her and to have given her the gift of life that lasted 9 years. How many people she supported and inspired during those years, I’ll never know – but I know I was one of them, and I know she paid it forward, and then some.
I’m hopeful that by sharing my story, others might consider becoming an organ or tissue donor, either at the end of life or possibly even during their lifetime. As I write this article, more than 130,000 organs are needed in the U.S. -- approximately 109,000 of those kidneys. And people die every day because the organs they need are not donated in time.
I can tell you that there is no feeling quite like knowing you helped save a life…particularly if that person becomes a dear friend.
Eileen Rooney Hausermann is Burlington Labs’ Documentation Specialist.
If you have a desire to become an organ donor after your death, please make those wishes known, now, to your loved ones. While you may have signed the back of your driver’s license or signed up with a state donor registry, you can make it easier for your loved ones who would have to make a potentially life-saving decision during one of life's most difficult times.
For more information, please visit one of these websites:
Register to be an organ donor at Donate Life New England
Read more articles from our January/February 2016 issue of our newsletter, "TheBuzz":
Massachusetts Lab Increases Capacity with Facility Move
My Story: I Gave Up a Kidney -- and Gained a Friend
Compassion in Action: Adopting Families for the Holidays; Polar Express
Event Educates, Unites Families Impacted by Addiction
From the Lab Bench: Not All Assays Are Created Equal
"Continuing Ed" with Ed Baker: Nice to Meet You!
Partner Profile: Richard Winant, Kelly House, Wakefield MA
Drug Trivia: Alcohol Use During Pregnancy
Patient Services News: Burlington Extends Hours; Rutland Ribbon-Cutting