According to Mayo Clinic over 100,000 people are on the national transplant waiting list for an organ donation in the United States. Unfortunately, thousands never get the call saying that a suitable donor organ — and a second chance at life — has been found.
Living donors offer loved ones or friends an alternative to waiting on the national transplant list for an organ from a deceased donor.
Sleepy Eye native Mary Kathryn “Kate” (Ebenhoh) Beattie said that while living organ donation takes place fairly often, it’s not something that is publicized like giving blood or adding the “donor” sticker to your driver’s license–even though it is a similar life-saving procedure.
Because it isn’t widely publicized, Kate felt driven to tell her story at giving someone a second chance at a healthy life.
Living organ donation wasn’t something Kate considered doing until two years ago when her nephew was born with only 10 percent kidney function.
“My husband and I both decided to start the process to see if we could be a (kidney) donor,” Kate said.
After passing the first two tests–compatible blood test and crossmatch, they were told one of them could continue to the next evaluation test.
“Since my husband is the blood relative, he chose to go. He passed the evaluation and was considered a viable donor until our nephew’s anti-bodies spiked, and was no longer compatible,” Kate said.
At that time the transplant coordinators went back to the pool of willing donors to find a new match, which happened to be another nephew. That kidney transplant between nephews happened this past summer.
Two weeks after that transplant occurred, Kate said she saw a post on Facebook from her friend, Lola, who posted that a friend of hers, Mary, was in kidney failure after living with polycystic kidneys since she was 26.
Polycystic Kidney Disorder (PKD) is where clusters of cysts develop primarily within the kidneys. PKD leads to progressive loss of kidney function. As the disease worsens, end-stage kidney failure may occur, requiring kidney dialysis or a transplant.
Lola posted Mary’s blood type and which other types would be acceptable.
Amazingly, Kate’s blood type was one that would work for Mary. She talked with Lola and asked her to share Mary’s story.
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Kate learned that Mary and her husband, Mark grew up and still live in the Duluth/Superior area, which is where Kate’s husband is from and where they lived for 20 years.
Mary and Mark have a daughter who just turned 16 and went to the same school that Kate’s son, her husband and his parents attended in the Duluth area.
Kate said what touched her the most about Mary’s story was her daughter.
“When I was 17, my mom was diagnosed with cancer and passed away five days before my 18th birthday,” Kate recalled. “I made the decision that if I could, I wanted to help Mary so that her daughter would have a healthy mom as long as possible while hitting the milestones of growing up, which mean the most in a child’s and parent’s life.”
Mary was about to begin dialysis when she found out Kate was willing to go through the process of donation. She decided to wait as both Kate and Mary believed this was going to work.
“We are both positive people and are both named Mary Kathryn. It was meant to be!” Kate said.
After passing the blood and crossmatch tests with Mary, Kate moved on to the two day evaluation at the Mayo Clinic in late September. The first week of October Kate received a phone call that the transplant team approved the donor-recipient pair. They chose Oct. 23 for the surgery.
The day before surgery, Kate said, she and Mary went through several more tests to ensure nothing had changed and they were still compatible.
Kate’s friend Lola and her daughter, who coincidently goes to school with Mary’s daughter, came to the hospital to support the donation alongside Kate’s husband and son.
Mayo Clinic has one of the largest living-donor kidney transplant programs in the United States. Surgeons perform minimally invasive surgery to remove a living donor’s kidney (laparoscopic nephrectomy) for a kidney transplant, which may involve less pain and a shorter recovery for the donor.
After the transplant, Mary’s kidney from Kate began working immediately and brought her creatinine levels back to normal.
“My recovery was quick and I still marvel every day about the miracle of kidney transplants,” Kate said.
Page 3 of 3 - Kate added that Mary is excited for a chance at a new life and Kate has gained a new friend for life.
Transplants can greatly improve recipients’ health and quality of life, allowing them to return to normal activities. A living donor, like Kate, makes that possible.