Thrive by IU Health

May 27, 2021

Intensive care nurse first IU Health patient to donate two organs

IU Health University Hospital

Intensive care nurse first IU Health patient to donate two organs

She first donated a kidney then two years later Stephanie Kroot donated a portion of her liver. Both times, she approached the donation without first knowing the recipient.

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

There were laughs. There were hugs.

But it was when Stephanie Kroot stepped outside and pulled down her mask that Glenda Lopez began to cry. Seeing Kroot’s smile for the first time took hold of Lopez.

She recognized immediately the caring spirit of the woman who had donated a portion of her liver to help restore her health. Lopez drove to Indianapolis from Evansville the night before the meeting. She couldn’t sleep she was so excited to meet her donor.

For Kroot, the meeting was also filled with emotion. Seeing Lopez – healthy – completed the circle.

Kroot and Lopez at IU Health

Kroot, 47, is the first living donor at IU Health to donate both a kidney and a portion of her liver. Her journey to become a living donor began more than 20 years ago. When her sister had kidney stones, she decided that if she ever needed to donate to her sister she would. Then when her mother needed a bone marrow transplant, she considered being a donor. Then on Sept. 5, 2019 through the National Kidney Registry Remote Donation Program, Kroot donated her kidney that was given to an out-of-state patient. During that procedure Kroot was in the care of IU Health surgeon Dr. John Powelson.

She knew at the time she wanted to donate a portion of her liver and began researching the possibility. When IU Health started doing living liver donation again a year ago, Kroot returned, this time in the care of IU Health Dr. Chandrashekhar Kubal.

“This is unique because we only just started doing living liver donation again and we already have someone who is a dual organ donor and our second altruistic (non-directed) liver donor,” said Dr. Kubal.

Dr. Kubal with Lopez and Kroot

A non-directed donor does not know the recipient. They donate because they know there is a need. April is National Donate Life Month – a time to bring awareness to the need for organ donation. According to Donate Life America, there are more than 100,000 men, women, and children awaiting a life-saving organ transplant. Of that number 85 percent are in need of a kidney, 12 percent are awaiting a liver.

Living liver donors are screened and must be in good physical and mental health, and between the ages of 18-55 years of age. Several tests evaluate if a potential donor is a viable match – including blood tests, urine screening, chest x-rays, an EKG, CT and MRI. Once a donor has completed screening, surgery is performed to remove a portion of the donor’s liver. At least 30 percent of the donor’s liver remains and typically grows back to normal size within a few weeks.

Lopez, 40, had waited years for a new liver. A native of California, she moved to Evansville in February 2019 where she completed classes to become an Evangelical Pentecostal chaplain. About the same time, she became a patient at IU Health in the care of hepatologist Dr. Kavish Patidar.

Lopez was diagnosed early in life with a hereditary liver disease. She spent most of her adult life on medicines to control the symptoms.

“It has been very hard,” said her middle child Nayeli Lopez, 19. “The medications made her very emotional. The Hispanic culture is all about tough love and when she became so sick it was even tougher. As a single mom she’s always showed us how to be independent but it was as if my mom wasn’t mom anymore.” In addition to Nayeli, Lopez is the mother to Marisol, 23, and Corey, 15.

At her worst, Lopez couldn’t get out of bed. She was weak; her eyes and skin were yellowed, and there were many trips to the ER. Her normal 4’11 frame grew heavier with swelling from the prednisone.

“I was very sick. I was not myself,” said Lopez. Then the day before her birthday she got the call. There was a living organ donor. She received her transplant on Feb. 17, 2021. “I did not know the name or if it was a man or a woman,” said Lopez.

Kroot, a mother of four, graduated from Lowell High School – 245 miles from Evansville – at the opposite end of the state from Lopez. After high school she worked as an administrative assistant and then became a police officer. She was a member of the first Northwest Indiana Law Enforcement Academy of 1999-01. She served on patrol and two specialist teams – as a crime scene technician and as a rescue and recovery diver. Right after 9/11 she joined the U.S. Navy Reserve and served as an intelligence specialist.

After a divorce in 2012, she returned to school and received her nursing degree in 2015. She now works as a hospital ICU nurse and also with an agency that administers immunizations – including COVID-19 vaccinations.

When asked how her career and personal decisions are service oriented, Kroot said: “I have no idea. I’ve always had a strong urge to give to others – do good, feel good repeat.” She remembers her mom baking desserts for complimentary church meals and including diabetic offerings so everyone could receive a sweet treat.

Kroot is the youngest child of Charles and Jacquelyn Millsap and the youngest of 25 grandchildren on her father’s side. Her parents were married 50 years. Her mother died in 2014 and her father died four years later.

That paternal loss created an instant connection between Kroot and Lopez.

When the two recently came face to face, Kroot intentionally wore a green blouse -the color that shows support for organ donation and transplantation. During the emotional meeting, Lopez embraced Kroot and thanked her for her gift of a new organ. Then she gifted her with a dainty teacup.

Lopez delivering a dainty teacup

“My mom collected tea cups. She had a number of them on her dining room shelf. I immediately felt like she was here,” said Kroot.

Lopez lost her mother in 2018 – from complications with the same hereditary liver disease that threatened her health.

“My mom didn’t get a chance for transplant. I have gotten that chance, and I am so grateful,” said Lopez. “I feel healthy again and I am so thankful to Stephanie.”

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