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Kidney transplant patient celebrates 40 years with her sister giver

IU Health University Hospital

Kidney transplant patient celebrates 40 years with her sister giver

They mark the occasion every year in some way. This year, they’ll spend some time remembering but mostly rejoicing. Jill Coleman has renewed health.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes,

She is the third oldest of seven children. Growing up Jill Coleman remembers playing tag, riding bicycles, and running a vegetable stand stocked with homegrown produce.

Her sister, Ann Kinney – four years younger – also remembers how sick Coleman was. “We were a wild and crazy bunch of kids but we didn’t mess with Jill because she was sick,” said Kinney.

At the age of two, Coleman was diagnosed with enlarged urethral tubes. “My grandmother noticed I drank a lot of water. It caused my kidneys to back up and I was in and out of the hospital. The doctors said I probably wouldn’t make it past puberty. No one knew about transplants back then. I lived day to day never knowing if it would be the day my kidneys would fail,” said Coleman, 70. At her worst, she was so sickly she dropped to 115 pounds. For years she was a patient at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health. Later in life she has been in the care of IU Health nephrologist Dr. Dennis Mishler.

“By the grace of God and a lot of stubbornness I hung in there until transplant,” said Coleman. By the time she turned 30, she was on dialysis and needed a new kidney.

It was Kinney who emerged as a match.

Forty years ago, on Jan. 27, 1982, a three-person surgical team at IU Health transplanted Kinney’s left kidney into her sister. The sisters shared a room before surgery, holding hands and crying together. During the surgery, a few steps from one operating room to another separated them.

Since then, Coleman said: “I don’t like to brag but I feel perfect. She gave me a super kidney.”

Coleman lives in Terre Haute and Kinney lives in Indianapolis. Over the years, they have marked milestones of the transplant with dinners, cakes shaped like kidneys, and special gifts of jewelry – including matching bean design pendants from Tiffany & Co. One sister sent them flowers every year to mark the occasion. Coleman gives her sister-giver a mini tree tagged with lottery tickets to mark the transplant anniversary.

Kinney has another reminder of the transplant. She was 27 when she donated her kidney. During surgery, her IUD birth control was moved out of place. Six weeks after surgery, she became pregnant with her son, Jay Kinney, who was born on New Year’s Eve, 1982.

“They say you get back double what you give,” said Kinney, 67.

She also has a daughter, Jessica Harrison, who is a nurse at Riley Hospital. She was a year old at the time of the transplant. Kinney, who is retired, has five grandchildren and enjoys golfing and working in her yard.

Coleman never had children of her own but one of her younger sisters has three daughters that she dotes on like a second mother.

All the sisters are best friends. Coleman and Kinney have shared a lot of laughs over the past 40 years.

“When we hit the 28-year mark of transplant, Jill said she’d had the kidney longer than I did so it was officially hers,” said Kinney. When they make a wish or scratch off their lottery tickets Kinney puts her left side next to Coleman’s right side so they can keep the kidney close between them for good luck.

This year as they celebrate four decades of transplant, the women will be joined by another sibling for a “sister dinner.”

“Not many people know that Ann was born on Christmas Day. We always felt like she was our Christmas blessing and maybe the kidney was a gift sent on Christmas,” said Coleman. “How do I thank her? I just keep telling her I love her and that she gave me a great kidney.”

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