By Jeff Noble / Staff Writer
The day Paula Newman of Williamsburg had surgery to donate her left kidney, she was part of five pairs of organ donors having surgeries at the same time.
Someone in Wisconsin would get Paula’s kidney. Paula’s brother-in-law received a kidney from a California woman.
And when Melissa Bowling of London recently donated her left kidney, an Indiana woman would receive a gift. She would get Melissa’s kidney.
The two had never met in person until a few days before Melissa’s surgery.
These were matches made for life.
Paula Newman and her brother-in-law Rick McKiddy of Corbin, along with Melissa Bowling and her husband Chad, talked about those experiences Wednesday in the Paul Parker Pavilion of Baptist Health Corbin hospital.
It’s part of an exhibit featuring the Donor Family Quilt — a memorial collection of individual, handmade quilt squares. Each square is made in honor of organ, tissue or corona donors through the area served by the Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates (KODA).
The state donor organization exhibited the quilt in the hospital’s pavilion Tuesday from 10 a.m to 2 p.m.
According to KODA, over 800 people in Kentucky wait for a life-saving organ, tissue or corona transplant. Nearly 110,000 individuals in the United States do the same thing.
Just three years ago, almost 31,000 individuals had organ and tissue transplants in the U.S. Out of that number, just over 6,000 of those persons received a transplant from a living donor, such as Melissa and Paula.
Each day in our country, 18 persons die while waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. In 2011, there were nearly 7,000 people who died while waiting.
And to the waiting list for an organ transplant, a new name is added every 10 minutes.
Paula Newman donated her kidney almost six months ago — last October 24.
It was originally for Rick, her brother-in-law.
“I was tested, and it was going to be Rick’s second kidney for him. He had his first kidney donated in 2007 by his wife, Kristy, who’s my sister. That kidney lasted four years, but Rick’s body rejected it,” said 43-year-old Paula, a phlebotomist in the lab at Baptist Health Corbin.
During those tests at the UK Medical Center in Lexington, Paula found out her DNA was close to her sister’s. That didn’t bode well, because she learned that Rick’s body would probably reject the kidney she was going to donate to him.
Both Paula and Rick did some research about places that offered what’s called “paired donating” — a program that assists donor-recipient pairs who are incompatible with each other to find another donor-recipient with whom they can exchange kidneys. That’s to enable a more favorable compatibility, as well as allow a transplant to take place.
At the same time, Rick had to have special treatments for his antibody levels.
The testing would take them northwest of the Tri-County area, to the capital city of Indiana.
Paula recalled, “We started out with testing at the University of Indiana Hospital in Indianapolis. After they approached me for donating a kidney, we went on the national registry list, where they enter names of possible donors to see if they can find a match. We were on the list for over a year, and decided to switch places.”
That new place was the hospital at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland — one of the world’s most renowned research universities.
There, Paula and Rick were approved to go on the list, and after three weeks, they found a match.
“You gotta be at the right place at the right time. The Lord thought so, too,” said Paula.
The surgeries for Paula and Rick came in late October of last year. And they had some company in some other operating rooms across the nation.
Paula noted, “That’s when there were five pairs of donors having surgeries at the same time. There were surgeries going on in Maryland and in California. Ten people were affected because they were matched. The kidney that was intended at first to go to Rick went to a person from Wisconsin.”
When asked about his California kidney, Rick replied, “I feel good, great. Before the surgery, I was getting pretty sick. The donation was at the right time at the right time.”
“It’s a very rewarding experience. I wish more people would be aware of donating their kidneys, or other organs and tissues. Unless you have someone like a family member or yourself who needs that gift of an organ donation, you don’t know how much of a gift it is. It’s an awesome feeling to donate it while you’re living,” Paula commented.
In Melissa Bowling’s case, her kidney was donated almost a week-and-a-half ago.
Friday, April 11, to be exact.
Like Paula, Melissa donated her left kidney to a recipient in need of it. But it would be two years before that recipient — who Paula would meet later — would receive her gift.
“A couple of years ago, I was led by God to donate a kidney. I felt strongly that He would want me to do it. I was in good health, so that wasn’t a problem. I had considered being on the living donor registry, but decided not to,” said 42-year-old Melissa, who works at Baptist Health Corbin as a surgery nurse.
Last November, with the help of social media and her daughter, Ashley, Melissa was shown a page on Facebook called “Kidney Donor Needed in Indiana.”
She would find out the woman in need of a transplant was a woman living in Bedford, in the southern part of the state, northwest of Louisville.
Her name was Lisa Hall.
One day, as she arrived at the hospital, Melissa thought about Lisa’s medical situation.
“I was in the parking lot, and I was getting ready to go into work. I read Lisa’s information, cried, and prayed about giving her my kidney. I thought, ‘If it was the Lord’s will, to let it be done.’ I went to work after that,” Melissa stated.
She would call Lisa, and talk to her. She also did everything to get the donation ready to go.
Lisa’s donor coordinator called Melissa back, telling her there was someone else being tested for donating a kidney to Lisa, and that hospital policy said only one person could be tested at a time.
That was also last November. Melissa waited into the new year.
Two months later, the silence was broken by a phone call from Lisa’s donor coordinator.
Melissa pointed out, “Her coordinator said the person previously tested was unable to donate. That’s when further testing started for me, to see if I would be a match for Lisa.”
She traveled to the Indianapolis to the University of Indiana Hospital — the same hospital Paula and Rick went to earlier in their search for a donor match — and came back to London.
“Two weeks later, I got the phone call saying I was a perfect match for Lisa,” said Melissa.
During January and February, there were still tests she had to have, to make sure Melissa and her kidney were healthy and ready for surgery.
In March, both she and Lisa went on the surgery schedule in Indy. The surgery was set for Friday, April 11.
Melissa recalled, “Lisa had no idea that I would be her kidney donor. On April 8, I went in to see the surgeon, and that’s when I met Lisa for the first time. Lisa is a very kind and sweet person. She called me an angel, and I told her this was not just a gift from me, but also from God.”
The surgery was performed three days later. It came out perfect for the two of them.
“My recovery has gone real well. I’m getting stronger every day. Lisa’s recovery went well, too. Her lab work was normal, and she was able to reduce some of the anti-rejection medication she was taking,” Melissa said.
Family was also there to support her, added her husband Chad, who works as a welder for a Cincinnati company.
“About a month ago, she asked me what I thought she should do. And I told her to do what God thought He wound want her to do. I told Melissa I would support her 100 percent. Both She and Lisa are doing well, and it’s a blessing for all of us,” he said.
Before she and her husband left the hospital’s pavilion, Melissa noticed the Donor Family Quilt hanging up behind a group of chairs. On two tables in front of the chairs were brochures, cards, and other information pertaining to organ and tissue donations. They were free to those going through the hospital’s main lobby.
According to KODA, the Donor Family Quilt has been displayed in several areas of Kentucky. Like it was in Corbin at the hospital Tuesday, it’s been hosted by other hospitals and churches as a public display, and as a memorial backdrop for sponsored round table discussions about organ and tissue donation.
Several people stopped by the display where the quilt was.
A few picked up the information and took it with them.
“There’s very little awareness about being an organ donor. We’re hoping what we did would get people an incentive to educate themselves on how important being an organ donor is,” Melissa pointed out.
If you’d like more information on becoming an organ or tissue donor, you can go to www.donatelifeky.org.
By Jeff Noble / Staff Writer
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