Thrive by IU Health

May 23, 2024

She donated a kidney, so a young mother could have a chance at transplant

IU Health University Hospital

She donated a kidney, so a young mother could have a chance at transplant

Not all kidney donors and recipients are compatible. Here is how one donor helped a friend on the path to transplantation.

By TJ Banes, IU Health Senior Journalist,

There’s something unique about the relationship between Emily Bernard and Aaliyah Shackelford. Bernard, who turns 46 next month, says she’s like a “mom friend” to Shackelford, 25.

Shackelford, who was born in Alabama, moved to Indiana, and attended Fort Wayne’s South Side High School. After high school she moved to California and was hospitalized for a week. Doctors noticed something unusual and diagnosed Shackelford with lupus. The autoimmune disease occurs when the body’s immune system attacks organs and tissues. Shackelford first had symptoms in high school - hair loss and a butterfly rash - she attributed to stress.

She also lost a leg during her high school years and was told she wouldn’t be able to live independently. “Here I am. Being a mom to a daughter who thinks I’m a great mom. I love to see her growing up watching her dance. I want to see her graduate and I want to have grand babies.” said Shackelford. “I’ve had a wonderful support team with my dad, mom, brother and aunts.”

Back in Fort Wayne, Ind. she also has Bernard on her team. As her disease progressed, Shackelford’s kidneys became compromised. She is undergoing dialysis and needs a transplant.

The mother to three children ages, 15, 19 and 27, Bernard, actively volunteers in her community through such organizations as the “Bloom Project” a mentoring program, and “Bigger Than Us,” a program that promotes unity. She also works with people who are incarcerated.

Shackelford is a close friend with Bernard’s daughter. When she learned that Shackelford needed a transplant, she didn’t hesitate to begin the testing process.

According to Donate Life Indiana, more than 100,000 men, women and children nationally are waiting at any given moment for a lifesaving organ transplant. Of that number, 86 percent are awaiting a kidney transplant. Last year, 23,288 organ donors brought new life to recipients.

At IU Health, many recipients receive kidney and liver transplants from living donors. Living donors reduce or eliminate the need for patients to start dialysis, and a healthy kidney from a living donor can function better and last longer than a kidney from a deceased donor.

A living kidney donor isn’t necessarily related to the recipient. Compatibility is based on blood type and tissue typing. Age and size are also taken into consideration. If a healthy donor is incompatible with the intended recipient, the donor may opt to be part of paired donation. Also known as “donor swap” recipient /donor pairs are matched according to compatibility.

Emily Bernard and Aaliyah Shackelford

In Bernard’s case, she was not a compatible donor with Shackelford, so on March 20, in the care of IU Health surgeons, she donated her kidney to an unknown recipient. Through the National Kidney Registry, Bernard’s “Advanced Donation” or “Standard Voucher Program Donation” allowed her to make an organ donation and in turn, Shackelford, received a voucher, for a new kidney from a compatible donor.

“I don’t know where my kidney went. I received some nice cards through my transplant coordinator,” said Bernard. “I first heard about this type of donation a few years ago and when Aaliyah had a need, I wanted to help.” Bernard was hospitalized for two days and is easing into the summer activities she most enjoys - hiking, and spending time outdoors.

Shackelford continues to wait for organ transplantation.

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