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Mother of 3 races the clock for double transplant

IU Health University Hospital

Mother of 3 races the clock for double transplant

She got the call and Sara O’Daniels knew every second counted. She needed to head the hospital quickly. It was her time for a double organ transplant.

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

When patients are waiting for a transplant, they never know when the call will come. Sara O’Daniels had been waiting for almost seven months for a double-organ transplant. Patients on the wait list are advised to keep their phone with them at all times and be prepared to head to the hospital as soon as they are notified of a potential donor.

“It was disbelief. The caller said, ‘we have a kidney and liver for you and you need to be here within the hour,'”O’Daniels said. She was overwhelmed. “I was shaking and said, ‘are you serious?’ and then I threw the phone to my husband so he could take the rest of the information.”

Sara O’Daniels, 31, grew up on the Eastside of Indianapolis. She graduated from Whiteland Community High School. She met her husband, Pat, in 2009 and they were married in 2012. Together, they have three children, ages, 5, 6, and 10. They’ve made their home on five acres in Nashville, Ind. - more than an hour away from IU Health University Hospital.

In October of 2020 when O’Daniels’ became seriously ill she was transferred from IU Health Bloomington to IU Health University Hospital.

“I had three children and wasn’t really paying close attention to my health. When I got really sick, I had internal bleeding and learned that I was having kidney and liver failure,” said

O’Daniels. In 2014, she was treated for thyroid cancer and she thinks the organ failure may have been caused by the radioactive iodine or a genetic complication at birth.

“My husband and my mom didn’t know if I’d make it through. They were preparing for the worst,” O’Daniels said. She remained hospitalized for three months and came home in time to celebrate her middle child’s birthday. At home, she started dialysis five days a week.

“It was a lot to manage with three kids and I was hopeful I’d get a transplant sooner rather than later,” said O’Daniels.

On the night in mid-April when she got the call, O’Daniels was just clearing the supper table and trying to calm her anxious children. There was a severe storm brewing. Her husband was in the process of starting the generator because their home is located in an area that is susceptible to power outages. The National Weather Service had issued a warning for South- and Central Indiana of a risk of heavy winds and potential tornadoes.

“I realized I didn’t have a bag packed and I needed to gather clothes for my children because they’d be staying with family,” said O’Daniels. “My husband kept saying, ‘we don’t have time. We need to go.’” He called 911 but hung up before someone could answer the call. The dispatcher called them back as they were on their way to Indianapolis and told them there was an available ambulance at the nearby Bargersville Fire Department.

“I had set a stopwatch on my phone and when I jumped into the ambulance I could see that I already had 28 minutes left to get to the hospital. It was a race against time,” said

O’Daniels. As they arrived at the hospital and headed to the fourth floor transplant unit, the alarm on her stopwatch went off. Within minutes she was prepped and headed into surgery in the care of IU Health’s Dr. William Goggins and Dr. Chandrashekhar Kubal. The transplant was performed over two days - April 14 and 15, 2022.

In the past months, O’Daniels has had time to reflect on that frightful night. She was baptized two weeks prior to her transplant and is now enjoying improved health - spending time with her family, hiking, hunting for geo rocks in their creek, and painting.

“I am forever grateful to my donor and I’m in the process of writing to my donor family to thank them for their love and for this blessing.”

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