Thrive by IU Health

Two women enjoy heartfelt friendship, joined by a kidney

Two women enjoy heartfelt friendship, joined by a kidney

These two women met through a kidney transplant and are now sharing their lives.

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

One year ago, on Jan. 30, 2020 Dr. Kirsten Turchan, a pediatric dermatologist took a leap of faith. She did not know where that leap would take her; she just knew that she was led to jump.

Without knowing who needed a kidney; Turchan knew someone needed a kidney. Her altruistic donation resulted in what is called a “kidney chain.” Her kidney went to one person and that recipient’s family member donated to another person. In all four people donated a living kidney and four people received a new organ.

Living kidney donors do not need to be related to the recipient. Compatibility is based on blood type (ABO) and tissue typing. Age and size are also taken into consideration. If blood types are incompatible, there are other options to match a donated kidney with someone in need of transplant. Potential donors undergo psychological and medical evaluations that include blood tests, chest x-rays, urine tests, an EKG and/or stress test and a CT scan.

There were many unknowns for Turchan. There were many unknowns for her recipient, Susan “Sue” Clark. First, they were stranger. Second, they had no way of knowing they would fast become friends.

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.

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.

Weeks after receiving a new kidney, Clark asked to meet her donor. The connection was instant. The two women quickly realized how my much they have in common. They are Carmel residents, wives, mothers, and were born three months apart.

In the past year, that friendship has flourished. They both turned 60, and for Clark’s milestone celebration, Turchan joined her.

“I was thrilled and honored that Kirsten agreed to join us for my 60th birthday “girls” party that evening. My 7-year-old granddaughter loved meeting my ‘life saver’ as she calls her,” said Clark. “I too consider Kirsten my life saver, but I am also fortunate to call her my friend.” Five months after transplant the women – joined by their spouses – had dinner. Since then they have kept in touch through texts, calls, meet ups. They talk about family, religion, work, health, and their chaotic lives.

“The conversation between us flows with such ease, it is almost like we’ve known each other for a long time rather than just a few months,” said Clark. “As our families celebrated the holidays this year, we also celebrated the miracles that occurred when the kidney chain brought us together,” she said.

A single scar marks Turchan’s memories of her gift of life.

As she recently reflected on that “gift” she said: “I haven’t taken notice of my scar forever because it is so slight but it brings back memories of the whole process and the year leading up to and after the surgery. It reminded me of how incredibly blessed I am that God chose to use me in this capacity and it resulted in a friendship I never could have imagined.”

She continues, “Sue is an amazing lady. Her family and home are so warm and welcoming and you can quickly tell that she is the glue that holds them all together. She is kind and generous beyond words. I am confident that our friendship will continue for the years to come.”

Previous stories:

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.

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