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Husband donates kidney to wife: ‘This is a highlight. It’s worth it’

IU Health University Hospital

Husband donates kidney to wife: ‘This is a highlight. It’s worth it’

April is National Donate Life Month and today is Living Donor Day – a time to celebrate all those who gave the gift of life. Here is the story of one couple.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes

He says he doesn’t think he’s been exceptionally sacrificial. But when Mark Angellotti’s wife of 20 years needed a kidney, he didn’t hesitate.

“I considered what it would be like if I didn’t’ donate, and I considered what it would be like if I did donate. The answer was that our lives would be better if I did. I realized the risk to myself was minimal,” said Angellotti, 54.

April is National Donate Life Month – a time to bring awareness to those in need of organ transplantation. Donate Life America reports more than 100,000 people are awaiting lifesaving organ transplants; 85 percent of those waiting are in need of a kidney. Living donors can provide a kidney or a potion of their liver to a waiting patient. Last year, there were more than 39,000 organ transplants from 18,300 donors.

Karen Angellotti was 30 when she learned she had polycystic kidney disease (PKD) an inherited disorder that caused cysts to develop on her kidneys. At first there were few symptoms. Then fatigue kicked in. By 2019 she started dialysis and was in the care of IU Health nephrologist Dr. Michele Cabellon.

Karen Angellotti, 61, needed a new kidney. And her husband was first in line for testing.

For most of her career, Karen Angellotti worked as a school nurse. Mark is employed for the U.S. Department of Defense. They met when they were both living in the same apartment complex in Denver, Colo.

Mark says it was fate. They both enjoy the outdoors – White Water rafting, hiking, and snowshoeing. He had just signed up to join the Colorado Mountain Club and the next day he received the organization’s magazine in the mail.

“I thought at the time it was an quick turn-around and then I looked at the address on the magazine. It had been mistakenly delivered to me and it belonged to Karen. She was also a member,” said Mark. He decided to hand-deliver the mail to Karen and that was the beginning of their romance.

They were married in October 2001 in the garden at Denver’s Mountview Presbyterian Church. Karen said she was attracted to Mark’s “beautiful voice” and his sense of humor. They have similar interests in the outdoors, and they both enjoy cooking.

In 2008, Mark’s job brought him to Indiana. Six years later, Karen was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Unlike PKD, breast cancer does not run in her family. Karen was surprised when she discovered a lump.

“The psychological impact of breast cancer is enormous but it quickly became less because of the great care, love and support from my spouse,” said Karen, who completed chemotherapy, radiation and a lumpectomy. “When it came time for my transplant, I was determined to not allow myself to bring on the fear I had with breast cancer.

On Jan. 15, 2021, Karen was in one operating room under the care of IU Health Dr. William Goggins and Mark was in another operating room under the care of Dr. Chandru Sundaram. Shortly after surgery, Mark made his was to Karen’s room. He was released after one night in the hospital.

“I understand the nerves someone might have about becoming a living donor, but the more you meet people like me, the more you can be assured. I would tell people this is a highlight, it’s worth it,” said Mark.

“She could have been anywhere. The fact that she was in Indiana at IU Health with this transplant team was like having a shining star,” said Mark, “It was like being in the right celestial body. I’m so grateful,” added Karen.

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If facing end-stage organ failure, a kidney, pancreas, liver, lung, intestine or heart transplant will help you embrace life again.