By Terry Rogers
On June 12, 2013, Nadine Holleger received a kidney from someone she had never met in a Shared Kidney Exchange. All Nadine knew was that her new kidney, which she needed due to a hereditary disease that caused her to go into renal failure, came from California. She even jokingly named her new kidney Cali.
Nadine’s friend, Leia Dypsky, had offered to be a donor for her, but she was not a match. However, Ms. Dypsky did match Grace, whose husband, Don, had offered to be a donor for her. (Grace and Don asked that their last names not be used). Don did not match his wife, but matched Gail Kneebone, who lived in California. Mrs. Kneebone’s daughter, Jennifer Raczka, matched Nadine.
In a program known as the Shared Kidney Exchange, the three donors and three recipients all underwent surgery the same day, and all transplants were successful. Due to HIPPA regulations, the hospital was not permitted to release any information regarding the donor’s names, but Nadine wanted to thank the person who she says saved her life. She reached out to Jennifer through the hospital, and the two have been in contact ever since. On Saturday, April 26, the six individuals met face-to-face for the first time in Washington, DC.
“My blood type combined with my antigen rate made me a very difficult match,” Nadine said. “I was informed by the transplant center my wait time could be as much as fifteen years. Most people only are able to live on dialysis for five years.” Nadine says the whole process changed her life as a whole and as a person. She says she gained a new family, regained her health and has a new outlook on life.
Her donor, Jennifer, says that she would do anything to help her mom, but with two small children she did have to make sure that she would be okay in the long run for her children. Other than that she had no hesitation in donating through the National Kidney Exchange.
“The process was very easy leading up to the donation,” Jennifer said. “I had to give a lot of blood and do a lot of testing. The recovery process was a little rough. I run ultra-marathons, so I went from running a 50 mile race three weeks before the donation to not being able to take a shower without a nap.” Jennifer’s says that she did feel as if it took her longer to recover than others. It has almost been a year and she says she is still getting back to where she was before, but says she would not change a thing and would do it all again.
Jennifer’s mother, Gail, says her recovery was uneventful and she is doing very well since her surgery ten months ago. She and Nadine must take anti-rejection medication for the rest of their lives, which lowers their immune system. Since this makes them extremely susceptible to infection, they must avoid being around people who are sick.
“I can no longer drink tap water and I avoid salad bars and buffets,” Gail says. “These things are nothing compared to what my life would be like if I did not have the transplant. I do notice I have a taste for sweets that I did not have before.” Nadine also reports that she has developed a taste for grilled cheese sandwiches, something that Jennifer used to eat almost daily.
“This process has definitely been a good thing for me,” Jennifer says. “It makes me happy knowing that not only did I help my mom but I helped out others as well.” Jennifer, Nadine and Gail all say that insurance covered all costs, including travel to the hospital for the surgery. Nadine said it did not cover lost wages for herself or her donor, however.
“I encourage everyone to consider joining the National Kidney Exchange,” Nadine says. “Jennifer, Don and Leia are examples of how someone can live a full, active life with one kidney.”