by George Taniwaki

If a patient with end-stage renal disease (ESRD) is a good candidate for a kidney transplant, nearly all health care professionals agree that they should consider a live donor since the outcomes are better and the wait times shorter than a transplant from a deceased donor. (More details comparing outcomes for different treatment modalities will be provided in a future blog post.) But many patients never find a live donor and instead spend years waiting for a deceased donor kidney. As Harvey Mysel of the Living Kidney Donors Network says, the most important step in finding a live donor is to just tell your story.

“The most common reason people give for not pursuing living kidney donation is the concern they have about asking someone to donate… For many people, the ‘ah ha’ moment occurs when they change their thought process from ‘I need to ask someone to donate’, to ‘I need to let people know about my situation, and educate them about the options that are available.’ The later results in having your donor find you!”

Mr. Mysel offers seminars to help kidney patients gain the confidence to approach their friends and families to discuss their situation. He points to three recent stories that show the importance of telling your story. In each case, the donor wasn’t related to the patient and was not a close friend either. The patient didn’t ask the person to be a donor. The offer was unexpected. And the event changed both people’s lives.

The first story appeared in the Seattle Post Intel. Mar 2008. Annamarie Ausnes works at the Univ. Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA and is a frequent customer at a local Starbucks. She is friendly with a barista there named Sandie Andersen. Ms Ausnes mentions that her kidneys are failing after many years of polycystic kidney disease and she will soon be starting dialysis. Ms Anderson quickly offers to donate one of hers. Says her husband, “If you can save somebody’s life, it’s special. It’s what Sandi wanted to do.”

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Recipient Annamarie Ausnes on left. Photo from Seattle Post Intel.

The second story involves Keri Evans, a single mother in Midland, TX. She regularly takes a taxi to her thrice weekly dialysis sessions. One day, being frustrated that none of her close relatives were matches for a transplant, Ms Evans declares, “I give up, don’t pick me up for dialysis tomorrow.”

That complaint leads the taxi driver, Carol Hambright, to decide to donate her kidney. She isn’t a match for Ms Evans either, but the two of them have joined a kidney exchange at Methodist Specialty and Transplant Hospital in San Antonio. The story was covered by KWES in Midland and also by ABC News Jul 2009.

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Recipient Keri Evans on right. Photo from KWES

The final story comes from the Chicago Tribune Feb 2010. It involves Myra de la Vega, a clerk at Jewel-Osco in Evanston, IL. She is friendly with Dan Coyne, a regular customer. After learning she was starting dialysis, he offered to donate his kidney. She refused his offer, hoping to receive a kidney from her sister. When they learned she couldn’t, Mr. Coyne repeated his offer and Ms de la Vega accepted. Mr. Coyne’s wife, Emily, had reservations about her husband’s gift. But after seeing how much he wanted to do it, she relented.

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Recipient Myra de la Vega on left. Photo from Chicago Tribune

[Update: A video featuring the first pair mentioned, Sandie Andersen and Annamarie Ausnes, is described in a Dec 2010 blog post.]

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