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Wanda Wilson and Jody Ekstrom: Living-Donor Kidney Transplant Patient Story

Wanda Wilson Patient Story

At age 69, with her husband and family behind her, Wanda Wilson made one of the most important decisions of her life – to become a living-kidney donor for her niece, Jody.

While the standard age limit for living-kidney donors is 70, Wanda was determined to do whatever she could to help her niece.

"When I found out that Jody was sick and headed towards kidney failure, it just seemed logical. I have always been a healthy person so I decided to give her one of my kidneys," says Wanda.

The Challenge: Kidney Failure

Jody’s complications began back in 2015 after a routine physical revealed that her kidneys were failing. At the time she had no symptoms and didn’t feel sick but further testing revealed that something was seriously wrong.

“By the time I got home from my appointment, I had several calls from my doctor telling me to get to the hospital as soon as possible,” says Jody. “Of course, this was very scary and a bit shocking because I had been working and living every day and then suddenly I was sick.”

With only 12 percent kidney function, Jody started dialysis and was placed on the kidney transplant waiting list.

The Path to Living Donation

For patients in need of a kidney transplant, every moment is critical and it may take years for a deceased-donor organ to become available. However, during a living-donor kidney transplant, a healthy adult can donate one of his or her kidneys to someone in need. Living donation is a life-saving alternative which allows patients to receive a transplant sooner and results in superior outcomes for the recipient.

Living donation was found to be a safe short-term and long-term option for Jody. When Wanda heard the news, she decided immediately to be tested as a potential living donor.

“Because I was 69 at the time, I worried they wouldn’t approve someone my age. But, I decided to keep going and try anyway,” says Wanda. 

So, Wanda underwent a pre-transplant evaluation at UPMC Montefiore. During the evaluation process, potential donors are carefully screened to ensure that donating is safe for them. While the testing was extensive, Wanda was approved for kidney donation and deemed a perfect match for Jody. Wanda credits her husband for helping her through this difficult time.

“This was a process for both me and my husband. It was one thing for me to do this but it was another thing for him to see his wife do this,” says Wanda. “During the final conversation we had before I called Jody to tell her the news, my husband just broke down crying and said that he wanted Jody to live and that he fully supported my decision.”

Overcome with emotion, Wanda and her husband called Jody to deliver the news.

“My heart started beating so fast,” says Jody. “I just can’t even explain it. So many things go through your mind.”

The Solution: A Living-Donor Kidney Transplant

On April 7, 2017, Wanda and Jody underwent a living-donor kidney transplant.

Wanda was released from the hospital in two days. Jody, who was only in the hospital for five days, believes she would not have made it through the transplant without the love and support of her husband who was by her side the entire time.

Both Jody and Wanda had a successful recovery and are doing great. Jody was even able to go back to work within a few short months.

The Results

Today, Wanda and Jody are excited to share their story. Both women hope that their experience will inspire others to explore living donation.

“I want to encourage older people not to assume that they can’t donate because of their age. Go ahead and let the doctors make that determination and tell you if you are not a good fit,” says Wanda. I was so surprised at how well I did, so please don’t just assume.”

Wanda and Jody’s treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.