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No Second Thoughts

She saved her dad with one simple decision
Jennifer Wintheiser was the first one to be tested in her family. Her brother lived in Denver, her younger sister wanted to start a family and she had a better chance at being a match than her mother who would already have enough to do with taking care of her dad.

“I talked it over with my husband, and we decided that I would be the one to get tested,” explains Jennifer. “I lived the closest to my dad and if it didn’t work out, then my brother would try.

Jennifer’s dad Bob had polycystic kidney disease and would inevitably need a kidney transplant. Although he was placed on the donor list, it can take years before a kidney becomes available. Also receiving an organ from a living donor is proven to be better for the recipient in the long run.

“A lot of times it is a family member or friend who decides to give,” says Thavam Thambi, MD, transplant surgeon at Sanford Health. “These altruistic donors do this out of the goodness of their hearts.”

Finding the right match
However not all people are good candidates for donation. Although the complications are very minimal for a donor, it is still surgery and the transplant team at Sanford requires a considerable amount of testing before giving the ok to donate.

“Only about 30 percent of people who come in for testing are actually eligible to donate,” remarks Dr. Thambi. “A donor not only has to match with the recipient, but they can’t have any infections, heart disease or suffer from any other health conditions. Plus, they have to be strong enough to handle being put under general anesthesia.”

Jennifer first had to be tested for the kidney disease her father had, as it’s genetic. After confirming she didn’t have the hereditary disease, Jennifer was still in for a round of testing.

“I went in for about two full days of testing,” remembers Jennifer. “I had a CAT scan, chest X-ray and gave about 15 vials of blood, but the transplant team was amazing. I met with social workers, donor advocates, dietitians, surgeons and everyone involved was so nice and accommodating.”

A life-giving surgery
Cleared to donate, the transplant was scheduled for October of 2012. Jennifer and her family arrived the day before surgery prepared for a long few days.

“I think I got a little more nervous the day of the surgery,” remembers Jennifer. “But from the window in my room, I could see the donate life flag hung in my honor. That really filled me with calmness and reassured me that I was doing the right thing.”

The surgery lasts about two and a half hours and is performed laparoscopically with only a small incision. Patients can typically leave the hospital within two to three days. There is some abdominal pain due to the surgery, but for the most part, donors are able to recover with limited complications and lead full lives with only one kidney.

“Donors lead completely full lives,” says Dr. Thambi. “After a few months of taking it easy, they go back to living their normal lives.”

“After I got back home and started to get back into my normal routine, I had no problems,” says Jennifer. “I really just listened to my body and paid a little more attention to my health, and before I knew it, I was running a 5k.”

Jennifer is also a volunteer with the National Kidney Foundation and helps prepare other possible donors for the process of giving a kidney. “It’s great to be able to serve those who are going through the exact same thing I was and to give them a bit of perspective on the situation.”

Posted Date: July 2014