Living Donation

John Oesterle and Cathy Bell: Living-Donor Kidney Transplant Patient Story

John Oesterle and Cathy Bell

The Challenge: The Decision

John Oesterle and Cathy Bell have been friends for more than 50 years. As high school sweethearts and close friends, John and Cathy’s relationship had always been effortless, and although they drifted apart from time to time, they always managed to find their way back together.

John was always grateful to have Cathy by his side, especially after being diagnosed with lung cancer. John underwent a double lung transplant in 2008, and while the transplant was successful, the medications he was taking led to the gradual decline of his kidneys. By 2014, John’s doctors advised that he would need to go on dialysis.

Around that time, Cathy, who had not seen John for a few months, decided that she needed to go check on her old friend. When she arrived at the house she could tell right away that something was wrong.

“I found John in full kidney failure,” says Cathy. “His feet were swollen and he was short of breath and could barely speak. He was too ill to even come to the door.”

Cathy, worried and scared for her friend, immediately called 911. John was taken to a local hospital and immediately placed on oxygen.

The Path to Living-Donor Kidney Transplant at UPMC

That same evening, John was transported to UPMC Montefiore, where he had received his lung transplant years before. He started dialysis the very next morning.

“I really thought this was the end,” says John. “I was so sick I didn’t think I would recover.”

At the time of his diagnosis, John had undergone a transplant evaluation. For patients, like John, every moment spent waiting for a transplant is critical and the need for an organ far outweighs those available. As a result, doctors suggested a living-donor kidney transplant.

During a living–donor kidney transplant, a healthy kidney from a living person is removed and transplanted into a person with a failing kidney. With 96,000 people in the United States on the waitlist for a kidney transplant, living donation helps to reduce the shortage of organs. Living donation allows patients to receive a transplant sooner and before they become too sick. Friends, family members, and even strangers have chosen to become living donors in order to help people in need.

As soon as Cathy learned that this was an option, she immediately wanted to do it.

“Cathy came to my rescue. She said she wanted to be my donor that first night in the hospital while I was waiting to come to Pittsburgh,” says John.

The Solution: A Living-Donor Kidney Transplant

In order to qualify for a living-donor kidney transplant, Cathy and John both had to undergo an extensive evaluation. Cathy spent two days with the transplant team to determine if she would be suitable donor for John, and after a series of tests, they found out that they were a perfect match.

“When I found out that we were a perfect match I just started crying. It was totally unbelievable,” says John.

On April 30, just a few weeks later, John and Cathy underwent a living-donor kidney transplant.

The Results: Giving Back and Spreading Awareness

Since their transplant, both John and Cathy are doing well and excited to share their story with others.

John is busy focusing on giving back to those who helped him along the way. He is currently working on various projects to help spread awareness of living donation and raise funds to support transplant research.

Today, John and Cathy’s friendship is stronger than ever and John will never forget the gift his friend gave him.

“None of this surprised me out of Cathy. I have never known anyone who does more for people than she does. Her acts of kindness happen every day,” says John.

John and Cathy’s treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.

Learn More About Living-Donor Kidney Transplant

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UPMC Kidney Clinics: