REDSTONE ARSENAL, Alabama — According to the National Kidney Foundation, in 2014, 17,107 kidney transplants took place in the United States. Of these, 11,570 came from deceased donors and 5,537 came from living donors.
Recently, one AMCOM employee joined the ranks of those within the organization who became organ donors.
Kerensa Crum, a public and congressional affairs specialist and Army retiree, went into surgery Sep. 3 to donate a kidney to someone in need.
Her daughter, Mia, has a close friend whose mother, Tiffany Williams, became hospitalized while Mia was staying with the family sometime last year.
“When I went to visit her in intensive care, I saw how sick she was and she later told me that she needed a kidney,” said Crum. When she asked her daughter how Williams’ daughter was doing, she said the daughter didn’t say much but would cry. “In that moment, I thought, ‘What if that were my daughter? What if I were in the hospital and I was so sick that I needed a kidney?’”
From that moment, Crum began to ask questions. She admitted that she didn’t know much about the process but was determined to donate.
Crum said Williams was surprised by her gesture. The two are not close friends; their connection is through their daughters.
“She first asked me if I was sure,” said Crum. “She probably didn’t think it was real because we are more acquaintances than anything… but, when it came down to it, I said, ‘Sure, I’ll do it.’”
Crum stated they started the process with a transplant center in another state but the process stalled.
“After a while I reached back out to the donor coordinator at [University of Alabama at Birmingham],” said Crum. “UAB went ahead and started the series of testing for the donation procedure. The donor coordinator, patient advocate and medical professionals at UAB talked me through the process. Also, I had to attend a class which explained everything about the process.”
According to UAB’s Living Donor Program, because of the lack of available deceased donor organs, the Living Kidney Donation Program helps to meet the growing need for organs among those awaiting a kidney transplant. A living donor may be a relative, spouse, or even a close friend of the recipient. To be considered as a living kidney donor, you need to be in good health and without any history of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease or other major illness. An outpatient, comprehensive kidney donor evaluation is performed to determine if you are a suitable donor.
By June 30, all of the testing was complete. However, immediately after the test results came back in early August, Crum found out that she and Williams were not compatible.
They were then placed in a database for a paired match and were soon matched with other people.
“Although Tiffany and I weren’t a match, I was matched with someone else who is a married father of two young kids who’d been waiting for a match for a year,” said Crum. “His brother was a match to donate to Tiffany.”
UNOS.org states kidney paired donation, also called kidney exchange, gives transplant candidates another option when their would-be donors are not medical matches. In KPD, living donor kidneys are swapped so each recipient receives a compatible transplant.
It was little over a year from when Tiffany became ill to when the donation occurred.
“I can’t thank Kerensa enough; I appreciate all of this from the bottom of my heart,” Williams said. “She was basically a stranger and was willing to make my life better for me and my kids.”
“I'm really glad that I was not able to be a direct donor for Tiffany, because that would have meant [my direct recipient] still would be waiting,” Crum said.
As a donor, there are no costs associated with the procedure. The recipients’ insurance covers all medical expenses in relation to the donation process.
According to The U.S. Office of Personnel Management, federal employees who are bone marrow or organ donors are approved for paid leave. An employee may use up to seven days of paid leave each calendar year to serve as a bone-marrow donor. An employee also may use up to 30 days of paid leave each calendar year to serve as an organ donor. Leave for bone marrow and organ donation is a separate category of leave that is in addition to annual and sick leave.
Organ donation is something Crum said she considered before but didn’t get a chance to in the past.
“There was a family friend who needed a liver transplant, so I volunteered to donate a portion of my liver to her,” said Crum. “Unfortunately, she died because she was sicker than we knew. And five years from the date that she died, I donated a kidney.”
Crum describes herself as a person who likes to give. She admits that it surprises people that there was no second thoughts in her decision to donate.
“I am a giver at heart,” said Crum. “A lot of things I do are anonymous, but this is big. I used to say that serving in the Army was the greatest honor I’ve had, but this is right up there.”