Organ donation—the gift that keeps on giving

By on January 12, 2010

Geneva—Approximately 82,000 people in the U.S. are awaiting a life-saving kidney transplant. People in need have been receiving transplants from family and friends and anonymous donors for many years; however, it is rare to be an altruistic donor, one who just donates to help out their fellow man.

That is exactly what Merri Lazenby, a registered ER and trauma nurse at Delnor-Community Hospital, recently did for someone she knew only on a first-name basis.

Lazenby met Ray Andrade, security guard at Delnor, through his daily rounds in the ER.
“I’ve known Ray for some time, but just through his security rounds in the ER. One day, I saw him in the cafeteria and noticed he seemed down.”

Lazenby stopped to chat with him and found out that Andrade was in renal failure and needed a kidney. Andrade finally thought he found a family donor, but it turned out she was not a match.

Lazenby responded, “God gave me two kidneys, and I only need one; you can have the other.”

And with those words, what began as a gesture to help someone in need became a bond that will forever link these two people and their families.

Never a doubt
“It was an instantaneous decision and one I never had second thoughts about,” Lazenby recalled. “I knew I only needed one kidney to live and wanted to help Ray.”

Later that day, Lazenby told her husband she offered to donate her kidney to a man she knew only through work, and waited to hear his response.

“My husband was awesome and so supportive, but I don’t think he was sure I would actually be a match.”

With her offer now extended, the journey began. In January 2009, she completed the initial paperwork, extensive blood work and other laboratory tests necessary to see if indeed she was a compatible donor. Psychological counseling was also part of the process.

“They did every test you can imagine,” Lazenby said.

The thousands of dollars worth of blood tests, CT scans, and mental and physical examinations was covered by the recipient’s insurance.

Although the transplant team wanted to confirm that Lazenby’s kidney was healthy, “more of their concern was that my decision to do this would not do me any harm in the present or potentially in the future,” she said.

The battery of tests eventually confirmed that her motives were altruistic and her health was good. When Lazenby found out she was a perfect match months later, she recalled the entire situation as divine intervention.

“I was meant to see Ray that day in the cafeteria,” she said. “He shared his story with me for a reason, and I was able to help him. It was how it was supposed to be.”

Now, eight weeks post transplant, Lazenby is recovering well and plans to return to work in the ER within the next few weeks.

“My family and extended Delnor family have taken really good care of me. I have had great support. Everything worked out just like it was supposed to; it happened at the perfect time for both of us. And I believe I got so much more out of the donation than I gave,” she said.

Supporting life
For 25 years of his life, Delnor security officer Ray Andrade has lived with diabetes, “The condition just got worse over time and eventually affected my kidneys,” he said.

About a year and a half ago, his doctor told him that he had two choices: go on dialysis or begin the search for a kidney donor for an organ transplant. He did both.

Andrade decided to look for a donor within the family.

“My sister living in California readily offered to donate her kidney, only to find after testing that if she did, her own health would be in jeopardy.”

Andrade was sitting in the Delnor Hospital cafeteria soon after learning that his sister was ineligible to be a donor, when he ran into Lazenby and related the story.

“She told me, God gave me two kidneys; I would love to give you one of mine,” Andrade recalled. “She convinced me that she was serious—I couldn’t believe it.”

More unbelievable was that after testing, the Northwestern Memorial Hospital transplant team found that she was nearly a perfect donor match for Andrade.

“What are the odds of that? It is like she is an angel that came into my life at exactly the right moment,” he said.

On Oct. 2, they both received surgery at Northwestern. Lazenby was discharged the following day, and Andrade went home on Oct. 4.

“The new kidney is working great,” he said. “I was undergoing dialysis three times a week for four hours at a time, and will no longer have to do that. I’m free at last.”

Andrade said that he is so thankful for the successful outcome.

“Merri didn’t have to do this, but she is a perfect example of the fact that the Delnor family takes care of each other. I feel extremely blessed and will always be grateful to her,” he said.

Who can be
a living donor?

There are many different types of living donors. A living donor can be a brother or sister, a spouse, other family member or relative, friend, co-worker and even a compassionate stranger. In this case, Lazenby knew Andrade, but simply through a working relationship.

Ideally, any healthy person over age 18, who has a compatible blood type and compatible human leukocyte antigen (HLA) tissue typing, may be considered as a possible donor. Individuals with certain medical conditions may not be able to donate. People who donate kidneys can lead normal, active lives after recovering from surgery without any special restrictions. The body can function perfectly well with only one kidney, assuming all the testing done before donation show that the donor is healthy and has two normal kidneys.

If you would like to learn more about organ donation, contact Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network, a federally designated not-for-profit agency that coordinates organ and tissue donation and supports families of donors online at or by calling (630) 758-2600.

Courtesy photos