Friday, July 10, 2009

My Kidney Lives and Pees in St. Louis

My kidney lives and pees in St. Louis. Yes, that is my quote that was picked up by TV and newspapers at the press conference last week. Of all the great information shared that day, that was the sound bite the press was waiting for. Later, as VP of HR, I thought I might have to issue a reprimand to myself for saying "pee" in public. But then I remembered that I had just written a blog about my bowel movements. I guess I will let this transgression pass as well.

The press conference was held at Johns Hopkins to announce the historic eight way domino kidney swap, the largest every done. The star was Dr. Montgomery along with Mr. and Ms. Brinkman, newlyweds who were recipient and donor, respectively, in the swap. I also had the privilege to be one of the eight donors who gave our kidneys to eight recipients over a three week period at four hospitals in four states. Until the last pair of surgeries was complete this week, we were asked not to talk about it.

Now, I can shout to the rooftops. MY KIDNEY LIVES AND PEES IN ST. LOUIS!! My kidney was flown from Baltimore to St. Louis and transplanted into an energetic 60 year old woman. Her daughter in turn donated her kidney as the last donation in the amazing chain. This last kidney went to the still anonymous recipient who was the person in the chain who had no live donor and who would have died without this transplant.

When I started this process, I planned to donate my kidney to my co-worker, Robert. I never imagined that I would be a part of something so large and remarkable.

I was donor #7. The chain was made up of ten women and six men. Seven of the people were in need of a transplant and they each had someone willing to donate a kidney to them. However, all seven pairs were incompatible due to blood or tissue type. Donor #1 is the key to it all. Donor #1 was Thomas Koontz, a Virginia gentleman who wanted to give back something to honor his daughter's cure from brain cancer. He willingly gave his kidney to anyone who needed it. I am in awe of the generosity of such an altruistic gift.

He had no idea how big his gift would become. Like me, I suspect he thought that one person would benefit from his gift. Instead,Mr. Koontz's kidney went to Ms. Wolstenholme; Ms. Wolstenholme's sister gave her kidney to Mr. Brinkman; Mr. Brinkman's wife gave her kidney to Mr. Bruce; Mr. Bruce's wife sent her kidney to Detroit to Ms. Johanson; (Are you confused yet? We are only half way through.) Ms. Johanson's friend sent his kidney to Oklahoma City to an anonymous recipient; the anonymous donor there sent a kidney back to Baltimore for my co-worker Robert; my kidney went to St. Louis for Ms. Leffler; Ms. Leffler's daughter then gave her kidney for the final recipient who had no donor. This ended the chain.

Brilliant! Simply brilliant!

However, the complexity of the logistics is mind-boggling. Just figuring out the mix and match of donors and recipients, then coordinating sixteen surgeries in four hospitals is hard to imagine. Not to mention there were kidneys flying all over the place. Dr. Montgomery said, " The airspace around Baltimore was full of kidneys."

At the press conference that day, I wore a Hopkins blue dress and an organ donation green scarf. No one saw the symbolism, but it was meant only for me anyway. I have never been more proud to be a part of Johns Hopkins Medicine than I was that day.

While most of the sixteen people involved do not know each other and may never meet, we are forever linked by this amazing event. When I wake each morning I will smile knowing that Robert and seven others have new kidneys, but I will laugh out loud at the sheer wonder that my kidney lives and pees in St. Louis.


  1. This is one of the most selfless acts of mankind. I am very touched by this wonderful gift of life to a complete stranger, to whom you'll forever be a part of. I've always felt the presence of friendship and caring within the Johns Hopkins family but this has taken it to a different level.
    I'm glad you are doing well.
    God bless you and continue to heal you and all the donors and receipient.

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