Meet Richmond, Virginia-based Argo employees Patti Beaupre and Julie Watson. Beaupre and Watson had been friends and co-workers for 10 years when Beaupre, who suffered from kidney disease, learned she would need dialysis unless she received a kidney transplant.
Having witnessed firsthand how dialysis treatments can affect patients’ well-being, Watson decided to be tested as a possible match for giving one of her kidneys to Beaupre.
“I had a family member go on dialysis, and I saw that it’s not the best quality of life,” Watson said. “I thought, ‘Patti’s still young. She shouldn’t have to go through this.’”
A match made in Richmond
The women were at work when Watson learned she was indeed a match for Beaupre.
“We sit right next to each other, but I took the call in another room,” Watson said. “I motioned for Patti to come into the room and told her to bring a box of tissues.”
The nurse coordinating the procedure told them that although Watson was a match, a younger kidney would better resist Beaupre’s disease. She told the women about a kidney paired exchange program that started in 2007 and is managed by the National Kidney Registry (Facilitating Living Donor Transplants).
Joining the program put the women in a group of more than a dozen donors and recipients. In a program like this – often called a kidney chain – each half of a donor-recipient pair is matched with other patients who are a better match for them, based on characteristics such as age, blood type and blood antigens.
A ‘needle in a haystack’
Beaupre received a kidney from a male living donor in Ohio. The procedure took place on December 20 – Watson’s birthday.
“I was planning to give – instead of receive – a present,” said Watson, who had been scheduled for her donor surgery the same day. Her kidney was intended for a woman in Wisconsin, but due to an issue with the recipient’s donor, that procedure had been canceled.
Watson agreed to be placed in another group as a bridge donor, added to an existing chain of donors and recipients.
“My kidney is a better match for someone else on that list,” she said. “It’s a needle in a haystack for someone.”
Her donor surgery took place on January 4. Despite the “hiccups” she encountered, Watson hopes sharing her story will inspire others to look into becoming a living organ donor, even if the recipient turns out to be a stranger.
According to the National Kidney Foundation, more than 100,000 people in the United States are awaiting kidney transplants. The median wait time is more than three years, while more than 3,000 patients are added to the waiting list each month. Paired donation programs allow patients to bypass the waiting list because they’re matched with a living donor.
“We want to raise awareness of the (kidney paired donation) program and let people know that even if you’re not a match for a person you know, you could be a match for someone else,” Watson said.