The Challenge: A Friend in Need
Jeanne Defibaugh knows firsthand the importance of living donation. When doctors diagnosed her husband with a life-threatening liver disease, Jeanne’s sister-in-law — Stephanie — came to the rescue. She volunteered to be his living donor and saved his life.
“When Stephanie learned that Rick needed the transplant, she just felt that she had to be his donor,” remembers Jeanne. “We call her our angel.”
A few years later, Jeanne got a phone call from a close friend. Doctors had just placed her friend's husband on the kidney transplant waiting list, and she was calling Jeanne for advice.
Like Stephanie, Jeanne was overcome with emotion and knew right then that she wanted to help.
Jeanne says, “I just knew right away that it was for me and I said that I would get tested as his donor. I thought back to my experience with my husband and remembered how difficult it was. That is why I just had to do it.”
The Path to Living-Donor Kidney Transplant at UPMC
During this first step, the transplant team carefully assesses potential living donors to make sure they:
- Can safely donate their kidney.
- Keep living a full and active life after transplant surgery.
“At the time, there were a few other people on the list for evaluations as potential donors. But, after the initial tests, the transplant team felt that I would be the best medical match,” says Jeanne.
During a living–donor kidney transplant, surgeons remove a healthy kidney from a living person. They then transplant the donor's kidney into a person with a failing kidney.
With 96,000 people in the United States on the kidney transplant waiting list, living donation helps reduce the shortage of organs. Living donation allows patients to have a transplant sooner before they become too sick.
Jeanne says of her kidney recipient:
“He and his wife have three young children. Doing this for him meant that he could spend more time with his children. He could be there for them as they grow up. I had to do whatever I could to help them.”
The Results: A Smooth Recovery After Transplant Surgery
On Sept. 18, 2013, Jeanne was finally able to return the favor and save someone’s life. The same way Stephanie saved her husband's life.
“We both did really well with the surgery,” says Jeanne. “I was home from the hospital within a few days.”
For most living-kidney donors, recovery takes about two months, depending on their job.
For Jeanne, the healing process was smooth and seeing her friend back home with his family made her experience all the better.
“When I see him now, with his kids, I do feel very close to them. Seeing their family together is all I need,” says Jeanne. “I finally understand how Stephanie felt being able to do something like that for someone else.”
Jeanne and Stephanie believe more people need to be aware of living-donor transplants and the life-saving impact one donor can have.
“Our family is truly blessed, and we are thankfully all doing fantastic,” says Jeanne. “We would all do it again in a heartbeat.”
Learn more about becoming a living organ donor, like Jeanne.
Jeanne’s treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.
Learn More about Living-Donor Kidney Transplant
UPMC HealthBeat Blog:
- Can I Donate Certain Organs While I’m Still Alive?
- Video: A Conversation with Dr. Abhi Humar and Cam Heyward
- Living Kidney Donation: Marc’s Story
UPMC Transplant Services: