Danielle Reuss has worked as a transplant social worker with the Kidney and Pancreas transplant team at Mayo Clinic for 14 years.
During that time, I met hundreds, if not thousands, of patients enduring end-stage renal failure and saw firsthand the devastating effects this disease process has on patients’ lives and their families. Most compelling were our young patients who are highly sensitized, very difficult to match with a living donor, and sadly doomed to spending years and years of their life on dialysis. Statistically speaking, finding a match for them is like “finding a needle in a haystack.” Specifically, I remember patients like Brooke, Linda, and Peter, and so many others. Their faces are forever etched in my memory and my heart.
I’ve always worked hard to promote organ donation, not just in my job, but in my personal life, as well. When I transitioned into a new job assignment with the Heart and Lung transplant teams, I decided to not just “talk the talk” but to also “walk the walk.” I volunteered to be tested to see if I could serve as a non-directed living kidney donor in hopes I could initiate a paired donation chain and help patients like Brooke, Linda, and Peter.
My procedure was in August of 2018. Physically speaking, for a brief period of time, I felt sore and tired. But this passed within a few weeks and then I felt completely normal. Frankly, most days I forget that I ever did this.
Emotionally speaking, I felt very satisfied. I’m just honored and proud I could do it. I think I would have felt guilty if I had never tried.
The Mayo Clinic Living Donor team has a vested interest in safety. A completely neutral team of doctors, nurses and social workers evaluate all potential living donors. They never meet the intended recipient, so that they can make a completely objective, unbiased decision about the safety of this individual donating a kidney. They do not take any chances. The medical and psychosocial evaluation is very detailed and thorough. At every step of the evaluation, you are reminded that you do not need to donate, that you can step out any time. There is no pressure to proceed.
When considering donation, please do your research. Talk with trusted friends and family. Give yourself ample time to consider this major decision. Make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons—to help someone in need.
If you’ve ever loved someone with a significant life limiting health condition—cancer, heart failure, dementia—you know that feeling of helplessness, wishing you could do something meaningful and tangible that would make a difference. Sadly, no amount of caregiving support, prayer, or hotdish will ever feel substantial enough to make a difference and take away that sense of helplessness. That is what is unique about living organ donation of a kidney or liver.
You get to do this simple yet profound act of kindness that will forever change the course of someone’s life.
Receiving A Selfless Gift
Heather Weber never expected to be a transplant recipient family member—not once, but twice.
My father received a double lung transplant in 2016, and my brother received a liver transplant in 2018. While each had a different journey toward the need for a life-saving transplant, they are both alive today because of two separate heroes.
I have been a registered organ donor since I turned 16. It always seemed like the right thing to do, but I never gave it much more thought than that. Never in a million years did I anticipate that the fate of one family member, let alone two, would hinge on the generosity of a stranger who also “checked the box.”
Following in my parents’ footsteps, I began donating blood as a young adult. Again, because it was something easy that would help others, now it has taken on a different meaning since the first transplant. Donating blood feels like one small action that I can do while I am alive and I do it to give back to others in honor of our donors and their families. I also take an active role in promoting organ donation awareness, sharing the importance of registering as an organ donor, and encouraging others to talk with their family about their wishes.
Both of these incredible men have been alive to experience more years of family time together, making new memories, embarking on new adventures, and living life to the fullest. We will be celebrating my brother’s wedding this summer and that is something that would never have happened if he did not receive this selfless gift.
In the hours and days immediately after my father’s transplant surgery we constantly found our thoughts focusing on the donor and her family and the incredibly selfless decision was made during their time of heartache and loss. Simply referring to her as “our donor” did not adequately reflect the magnitude of her role in our lives and I wondered aloud if there was something more meaningful that we could call her. My daughter, who was nearly 10 at the time and incredibly aware of how close we were to losing her grandpa without a transplant, spoke up and said, “We call her our hero because that’s what she is.”
The same sentiment echoed true with my brother’s donor two years later. Both of our heroes and their families have a place at our table when we gather together, in our hearts as we continue to create new memories, and in our family history as we honor them in sharing our story.
Gift of Life Transplant House: gift-of-life.org
Health and Human Resources Administration: www.organdonor.gov/
National Kidney Registry: www.kidneyregistry.org
Rochester Women Magazine: www.rwmagazine.com/uncategorized/meet-bethany-nolt