Kidney donation will help ailing colleague
Homer City, Pa.
CENTER TOWNSHIP — It only looks like an ordinary, routine educational field trip.
Students and teachers from Homer-Center High School will travel Wednesday to attend the “Organ Donation Makes Everyday Heroes” seminar in Pittsburgh. The goal of the program is to increase awareness of how organ and tissue donation works.
The Homer-Center students’ lesson, however, will be far from average, as their teachers have a dramatic way to drive home the message.
Science teacher Lisa Adams and special education instructor Cindy Scott are on track to become organ donor and recipient in a transplant program run by Allegheny General Hospital.
Scott suffers from kidney failure and eventually will need dialysis and a kidney transplant. She was listed last summer on a national kidney registry.
Adams, a longtime colleague and friend of Scott at Homer-Center, stepped up to offer a healthy kidney.
Their intent of a direct donation held promise because they have compatible blood types, but Adams said more intensive profiling ruled out a match.
“I jumped on it because ever since I met her I knew she would need a kidney,” Adams said. “It was in the back of my mind, that it would be cool if I could help.
“I got tested in February, an all-day battery of tests where you meet everyone on your transplant team and they figure out if you are a match. But it literally came down to some very specific protein markers,” Adams said. “We were a perfect match except for one small class of proteins that I have that would be a rejection flare for her.”
Now they’ve gone to Plan B — an arrangement that brings two more people into the picture.
Adams still will donate a kidney that will go to someone, anyone, on the waiting list who is a perfect match, and the transplant program will waive the waiting time for Scott to get a donor kidney as soon as one is available from someone, anyone, who is a perfect match to her.
“It’s kind of an organ swap,” Adams said. “Because we could not help each other, we could help by flipping organs with the others.”
Adams said they could enroll with two pools of recipients and donors — one, the local list kept for Allegheny General, or the other, the National Kidney Registry that theoretically could mean having organs shipped long distances to wherever the need may be.
“I could donate my kidney to anyone who is out there needing it, and Cindy essentially would get a voucher,” Adams said. “So when she is ready and in need of a kidney, she would get moved to the top of the list.”
Adams said a bonus benefit for her — something of an incentive offered to living donors — is the program’s pledge to give her priority care if her remaining kidney fails or has problems any time in the future.
“It’s a win-win situation if you ask me,” she said.
They haven’t decided which list to join because Scott’s condition isn’t dire. Her kidneys are functioning at 17 percent, but, Adams said, during recovery from a transplant, Scott’s health would be more fragile than it is now.
“She is actually too healthy for a kidney (transplant). She is better off right now functioning at 17 percent than going through the surgery,” Adams said. “You’re looking at taking anti-rejection meds which will lower her immune system for a time.”
Homer-Center School District Superintendent Charles Koren briefly mentioned Adams and Scott’s arrangement for the kidney donation and transplant on Thursday when the school board approved the field trip for the organ donation program.
The board also approved Scott and Adams to attend a professional development conference on the same topic, the 2017 Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Spring Institute on May 11 and 12 in State College.
“They will teach us how to implement organ and tissue donation awareness into the curriculum at school, so that when kids are getting their driver’s licenses, they will be more aware and educated about checking that box that says ‘I want to be an organ donor,’” Adams said.
“They dispel all the rumors of what it means to check that box, they talk about all the ways you can donate your organs. You know, you don’t have to die — you can be a living donor to somebody for a lot of different things.”
The field trip Wednesday to CORE (Center for Organ Recovery & Education), Adams said, is a spin-off program.
“The point is to teach the kids what it means to be an organ donor and all the different options,” she said. “They’ll get to meet people who have donated organs, and people who have received organs.”
That could go a long way toward getting more people in the donor registry and helping more patients get through the transplant waiting list.
Part of the knowledge, Adams said, is understanding that being a living donor isn’t as dramatic as it once was.
“Donating a kidney is not very invasive,” she said. “You’re looking at a little laparoscopic incision through your abdominal wall. Your kidneys aren’t that big, they’re only 2 inches. It’s no big deal.”
A living donor can give part of a liver. The organ regenerates itself to normal size. Bone marrow also is commonly given by living donors.
The Living Donors Online website reports a few hundred people gave given parts of their lungs, and partial pancreas donations have been done but are still considered experimental.
The timeline for the surgeries for Scott and Adams is not precise.
“For Cindy, it could be a year, two years, three months. You don’t know how long it’s going to be,” Adams said. “But the nice thing is I could give my kidney any time I want, and Cindy gets a voucher.”
What’s certain is that Adams will go in sometime before next spring because her health screening and donor profile is only valid for a year.
“I’m looking at donating sometime in the next year, depending on work and things like that,” Adams said. “So Cindy just basically gets that coupon so when she is ready, she can cash that in and get her organ when she needs it. That way I can get my organ out there to somebody who is on dialysis and is ready for it.”
Allegheny Health Network Transplant Institute, www.ahn.org/specialties/transplant-institute
Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, Hillman Center for Pediatric Transplantation, www.chp.edu/our-services/transplant
National Kidney Registry, www.kidneyregistry.org
The National Kidney Foundation, www.kidney.org
United Network of Organ Sharing, www.unos.org
Living Kidney Donors Network, www.lkdn.org/kidney_tx_waiting_list.html
Center for Organ Recovery & Education (CORE), www.core.org