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Kidney donor, recipient meet for first time

IU Health University Hospital

Kidney donor, recipient meet for first time

Two women, who live in the same community, met for the first time after one became a non-directed donor to the other.

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

The trail leading to their acquaintance is a little jagged. They were strangers – both on a path to organ transplant. One needed a kidney; the other became a living donor. What is different about this story is that these two women were part of a group of eight people forming a donor chain where four people received the gift of life – a new kidney.

It started with these two women - Pediatric dermatologist Dr. Kirsten Turchan was a non-directed kidney donor. She didn’t know who would receive her kidney she just knew someone needed a kidney. On Jan. 30, 2020 that “someone” was Susan “Sue” Clark.

IU Health, like most transplant programs, protects the identities of non-directed living donors and recipients. Information such as general age range and gender may be disclosed. In general, the non-directed donor and recipient are encouraged to wait at least a year to contact each other.

“I was more nervous today than the day I donated my kidney,” said Turchan, as she embraced the recipient of her kidney. “I was nervous for two weeks leading up to the meeting because I didn’t know if I could find the right words to thank her,” said Clark.

Nerves quickly dissolved into emotional energy – filled with smiles and tears.

“I knew the minute I looked into her eyes that I had met a lifetime friend,” said Clark. “I can’t wait for her to meet my family.”

As he watched the women from a distance, IU Health transplant surgeon Dr. William Goggins, said: “They look like they could be sisters. One thing about paired donation is how great it is when you can find the right match.”

In this case, the paired donation started with Turchan. She was moved by her faith to donate a kidney.

The Indiana Donor Network reports that as of February 2021, there were 91,319 people in the United States awaiting a kidney transplant. There are 873 Indiana residents awaiting transplant and in 2020, there were 857 people who received organ transplants as a result of 252 organ donors.

For Turchan, the decision to become a living donor was bigger than one recipient. It evolved into a chain of eight people. Her kidney went to Clark. In turn, Clark’s husband, David Clark, donated a kidney that went to Barry Catt, of Mooresville. Catt’s son, Wade Catt, was also a donor. His kidney was transplanted into Alabama resident Walter Ballard IV. Ballard’s younger brother, Chris Ballard, donated his kidney to Bria Hutchins.

A kidney chain is formed when a recipient doesn’t have a donor match, but does have someone who is willing to become part of a paired exchange.

“The process was so simple, I’d absolutely do it again,” said Clark’s husband. As he recently watched the joy on his wife’s face meeting her donor, he shared the relief of her new health.

Sue Clark became a patient of Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health at the age of nine. Diagnosed with IgA nephropathy (Berger’s disease) she went on to enjoy a full life, monitored by her family physician. The disease is caused when the antibody “immunoglobulin A” builds up in the kidneys. By the age of 50 Clark started experiencing an increase in her blood pressure. In June of 2019, she was in the care of a nephrologist and was listed for a kidney transplant. Transplant recipient, Barry Catt, was also diagnosed with IgA.

All four recipients now enjoy renewed health as a result of their gift of life.

“When you have someone come in who wants to help people and to facilitate a transplant that couldn’t be done before it is definitely something to celebrate,” said Dr. Goggins. “A single donation sparked a chain that ended up with four people receiving a transplant. It hasn’t happened often in my career,” he said. Joining Dr. Goggins was transplant nephrologist Dr. Muhammad Yaqub and transplant coordinators Alisha Turner and Sharla Ping. The living donor transplant coordinators are responsible for identifying matches between non-compatible pairs – connecting donors to recipients. Compatibility is based in part on blood and tissue type, and kidney size.

There was little pause after the initial introduction of Kirsten Turchan and Sue Clark.

They talked like they were childhood friends. In no time at all they discovered a number of similarities – they are both 59, and they live within walking distance of each other in their Carmel neighborhoods. They both pursued careers in the medical field – Turchan is a pediatric dermatologist; Clark is a retired nurse. As they chatted, they never stopped holding hands. Turchan talked about her two adult children – a son and a daughter; Clark talked about her 34-year-old twin sons, and her adult daughter. In a short time, they made the connection that Clark’s daughter is a teacher at the school Turchan’s children attended. The women also shared a common name, “Nana” – Clark has three grandchildren; Turchan has two.

There was something else these two women shared – they both became Christians within in the past decade. For two people who were once strangers, that personal detail revealed an even deeper connection.

They exchanged greeting cards – both with a theme of faith. Turchan gifted Clark with a coffee mug printed with a bible verse. Clark gave Turchan a silver necklace like her own - a tree of life charm engraved with the transplantation date.

“She gave me the gift of life and I’ve been trying to find the right words to thank her,” said Clark. Her donor had only one answer: “To know that you are alive and well is a gift to me,” said Turchan. “Seeing you is the affirmation I needed that this was totally a God thing.”

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