Scrolling through Facebook a few years ago, Lisa Wilson saw a post from an old high school classmate that she couldn’t quite get out of her mind.
The woman — someone Wilson hadn’t seen in 40 years — needed a kidney donor.
“It took me at least a year of following her posts and thinking to myself ‘gosh how can I help her find a kidney,’ never thinking to look inside,” Wilson said. “I did a lot of reflection and prayer and decided that I wanted to see if I would qualify as a candidate.”
A registered nurse working with the Ohio Department of Health at the time, Wilson called The University of Toledo Medical Center’s living kidney donor program and scheduled a workup.
While not a match for her former classmate, Wilson was a suitable donor.
Working through the Alliance for Paired Kidney Donation, a Toledo-based nonprofit created by UTMC transplant surgeon Dr. Michael Rees, Wilson matched with an individual in Italy.
Her altruistic donation helped complete a chain of donors that would ultimately mean Wilson’s high school classmate would receive a life-saving transplant of her own.
“It will change your life forever,” she said of being a kidney donor. “It’s, I think, relatively simple. I kept thinking how lucky am I that I’m not on the other side of this being the one in need. I get to just give. That to me was a driving factor.”
Wilson’s experience made her a passionate advocate for the life-saving procedure of kidney transplant.
So much so, in fact, that she sought out a job within UTMC’s transplant program. In January, Wilson joined the hospital as the transplant program’s outreach coordinator.
“This job is a gift to me. I’ve been a nurse for 30 years and I love nursing, I love helping people and serving them and making them feel better,” she said. “In this role, I get to do it still, but in a more unique way.”
As outreach coordinator, Wilson works with primary care physicians, social workers, dialysis centers and nephrologists to assist with referrals and be a key point of contact.
She also serves as an ambassador for the program, an easy role for her.
“I want the whole community to know how wonderful this program is, how many patients we serve and save and take care of,” she said. “I hope that when I’m speaking with somebody or promoting our program they can see my passion for it, because I believe in it wholeheartedly. I experienced it myself and I watch every day all the good work that is done and the patients who brighten up and thrive with the new kidney.”
Wilson also is a major advocate for living kidney donation.
Though receiving a kidney from a living donor is associated with better outcomes, only about a third of kidneys transplanted in the United States come from a living donor.
“The best kidney for anyone who has kidney failure is a living donor kidney,” said Dr. Obi Ekwenna, a transplant surgeon at UTMC who was not directly involved in Wilson’s surgery. “Living donor kidneys are generally healthier, spend less time outside the body prior to transplant and improve outcomes in the short and long term. We really want to promote living kidney donation.”
Individuals thinking of becoming a living kidney donor can contact UTMC’s living donor coordinator, Constance Cashen, by email or by calling 419-383-3419.
Those interested will be required to fill out a medical history form and undergo lab work to determine their suitability as a donor and, if they’re seeking to donate to a specific person, whether they are a match.
Extensive steps are taken to make the risk as low as possible. In most cases, the removal of a healthy kidney for donation is done laparoscopically.
Wilson’s surgery, done in Rome, was more invasive but even with that, she had a generally pain-free recovery.
“I’ve talked to other donors and many of them say, ‘I wish I had another spare because I’d do it again,’ ” Wilson said. “It just makes you feel wonderful to see life back in another person. If I had another spare, I’d do it again.”