By Rachael Tolliver-Ireland Army Health Clinic PAOFebruary 1, 2017
Authors note: The interview for this story was done the week before surgery. As of this writing both the donor and the recipient are doing well.
Martin Luther King, Jr., once asked, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'"
Donia Lawson doesn't need to think about it--she's paying it forward.
Lawson, a pharmacist at Ireland Army Health Clinic, is one of millions who logs into Facebook every day to see what her family and close friends are up to, and one day about a year ago she saw something that moved her. And she did something few of us would do.
"I saw a Facebook post about a year ago from my cousin," she explained. "Her nephew on her husband's side--by marriage-- was in need of a kidney. He is diabetic, was in end stage renal failure and he had B+ blood type."
As Lawson, who took seven years off from work to homeschool her kids before coming back a year and a half ago, read the post she couldn't help but think, "I have B+ blood." And, she said, she instantly knew what she would do.
Something that was equally amazing--Lawson had never met the man to whom she would donate one of her kidneys and had no idea who he was.
"I felt like God was asking me to do this," she explained. "I contacted my cousin and she gave me some information about Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University--where her nephew was being treated. I contacted them and they sent me a packet of information and I called them back and told them I was interested in pursuing this."
Lawson, a University of Kentucky graduate, said there wasn't an instant letter of acceptance--after all, she wasn't giving away a coat, a set of dishes or even a car. She was giving one of her organs--a part of herself that goes beyond the usual understood definition.
There were several pages of information she had to fill out. And she said she had to go through various kinds of testing, for example blood and tissue tests. She was also tested to make sure she is fit and healthy so she can recover successfully and be healthy after the surgery.
The process took about a year and at the end of September 2016, she found out she and the man she now knew as Gene were a good match. She was approved to be his donor.
Her husband is supportive, she noted, but is understandably concerned.
"He understands and will stand behind me in whatever I decided to do," she said. "He will be with me when the surgery is done and has taken off work to take care of me once I do get home. And my kids are….well my daughter asked if she could donate a kidney and I said, 'no.' But she was excited about it--about my willingness to give-- and thought it a really neat thing to do for somebody."
She said the hardest part will be restricting her activity. She can't lift anything heavier than gallon of milk for six weeks because of the risk of herniating the incision--it's the most common complication.
"I am a very active person, I'm not good at being still so I think that will be the hardest part," she added. "And they said it will take a while for my energy level to come back up--endurance, to come back to work and be there. Even just standing there because it's hard on your body. So I think one of the hardest parts is being patient with my body in the recuperation process."
After she has recuperated, she can do just about anything she wants. But, she will have to avoid non-steroidals like ibuprofen--which she said is her "go-to" for headaches and pains. And she will have to limit her salt and caffeine intake and take good care of herself.
"The remaining kidney, as long as it's healthy, takes over where the other kidney left off," she added. "You can live on one kidney without any metabolic problems."
Lawson pointed out that a living kidney donor gives a patient a 30 percent better chance of success than using a kidney from a cadaver--there is less likelihood of rejection. But, kidney donors are in short supply and those who need a kidney are often reluctant to ask for help.
If there was any doubt on Lawson's part, a message from Gene Bumgardner's wife let her know she was doing the right thing.
"Even though I don't know anything about Gene, in his wife's message she said they were high school sweethearts, he is the best person she knows, and is her best friend," she explained. "They have two kids, he's a coach, a teacher and a mentor and she just couldn't imagine life without him."
She added that people who know Bumgardner have said he is a great guy, they don't want to be without him, and "It's great you're doing this for him because he is a valuable member of his community, and a wonderful person who needs to keep being able to give and 'do.'"
Lawson isn't a stranger to valuable community service members. She has been helping with events, such as Via Colori festival in Elizabethtown, for several years. But donating a kidney to save a member of the community is different than donating time to raise money for the care of foster kids.
However both "donations" have something in common, as far as Lawson is concerned.
"I believe in paying it forward," she explained. "We are essentially all one big family. Whether it's the pharmacy, or the Army or your biological family or the human race--we are all here to help one another. So if we aren't doing good, what are we doing? I felt this was my opportunity make a difference, to pay it forward and give to other people."
Did you know:
Anyone who works for the federal government and wants to donate an organ or bone morrow can use the Organ Donor Leave Act which allows them to have up to 30 days off work, paid, without using their vacation or sick time to donate.