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Her son’s wedding brought them together; A kidney connects them forever

IU Health University Hospital

Her son’s wedding brought them together; A kidney connects them forever

This Mother’s Day Karen Risk is extra thankful. She gained a daughter-in-law and not only do they share the love for a special man they also share a kidney.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

Her first impression was, “I knew my son was happy.” That’s how Karen Risk describes meeting the woman who would become her daughter-in-law.

They’ve taken family vacations to Florida and Arizona. They’ve been together during moves, and when Elizabeth’s second daughter arrived three weeks early it was Karen and her husband, Gerald, who arrived in the middle of the night to stay with their grandson.

“We are very close. Karen and Gerald are a huge support system for our family,” said Elizabeth. She was introduced to Kevin Risk through a mutual friend. They had only been dating a few days when he took her to a choral concert and she met his parents, grandparents, sister, Kathy Sego, and her two children. “It was a great experience seeing him with his niece and nephew and I liked his family from the beginning,” said Elizabeth.

The couple married June 17, 2006 and made their home in Madison, Ind. Karen and Gerald live in Greenwood.

Diagnosed with Polycystic kidney disease (PKD), Karen was in the care of Dr. Derron Wilson and received six-month checkups. In the fall of 2019, she learned her kidneys were failing and she needed a transplant. PKD is a genetic disorder that causes cysts to grow in the kidneys. It affects about 500,000 people in the United States. In her own family, Karen’s dad, her grandfather, and uncle and two siblings were all diagnosed with PKD. Her son has also been diagnosed with PKD.

When they learned Karen needed a transplant, her family began to think about who could be a potential donor.

“I said, ‘I’m willing to go through the testing process and if God is willing I’ll keep moving from one step to the next. I was shocked when I went all the way through,” said Elizabeth. Living kidney donors work with a team of IU specialists including a transplant coordinator, social worker, dietitian, and nephrologist. The screening process includes multiple tests and consultations. Compatibility is based on blood type, tissue/HLA typing, age and size.

Elizabeth lost about 30 pounds in order to be eligible for donation. On Feb. 28, 2020, she donated her right kidney to her mother-in-law.

“I lost my grandparents when I was younger so in my mind I didn’t want my children to lose their grandmother,” said Elizabeth. “We’re close to my parents too but they still work and they travel. It’s a bonus to have two sets of parents.”

As a way to involve her children, Elizabeth was a guest reader in her son’s third grade class. She chose the book, “My Mom is having Surgery: A Kidney Story.” The book tells about a little girl who is worried that her mom is having surgery and how she learns that her mother is saving another mom’s life.

On the day of their surgery Elizabeth was in the care of IU Health’s Dr. Chandru Sundaram and Karen was in the care of Dr. William Goggins.

“I was in recovery and I kept asking, ‘where is Karen.’ I just wanted to know she was OK and had a new kidney,” said Elizabeth. A day later, she was wheeled down to her mother-in-law’s room and they held hands and celebrated the successful surgery.

They’ve named the kidney “Lu-Lu” after Karen’s mother. Since her transplant Karen said she feels great. She enjoys being a “Ma Maw” to her grandchildren and spending time with her family.

They mark the transplant anniversary with a celebratory dinner. Karen gave her daughter-in-law a special gift – a white gold pendant engraved with the words: “My miracle” and the date of the transplant.

“We both believe God had a hand in this. What are the odds that he’d match me with Karen’s son and I’d be a transplant candidate for his mom,” said Elizabeth. “I feel so blessed by the relationship we have.”

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