Atlanta, Ga. (July 29, 2013) – When Jodi Sheakley witnessed a kidney swap on an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, she couldn’t decide if the scenario was real or simply made for TV. Online research led her to discover that paired kidney exchange does exist and many times, it starts with an altruistic donor.
Sheakley, 40, works as a wellness coach in Charlotte, N.C., and holds a doctorate in holistic nutrition. She first learned about living organ donation after one of her patients came to her to lose weight so he could donate a kidney to his sister. Inspired by her patient’s selfless gift, Sheakley then researched the best transplant centers available to see if she, too, could become a living organ donor.
“I figured if I was going to give a kidney, I wanted to go to the best place around,” said Sheakley. “This wasn’t something I sought out. It found me and this was something so much bigger than me. It really was about a person who needs a kidney to live.”
Sheakley narrowed her choices to Piedmont Atlanta Hospital and Emory University Hospital. After speaking with Leanne Whitehead, living donor coordinator at Piedmont Atlanta, she knew Piedmont was the right place for her.
That’s when she met Miguel Tan, M.D., transplant surgeon at Piedmont, who suggested the best way to make the most of Sheakley’s donation would be to participate in a paired exchange, much like the one she had seen on Grey’s Anatomy.
“Altruistic kidney donation that results in a chain of transplants is incredibly beneficial for those who want to donate a kidney but don’t have a designated recipient,” said Dr. Tan. “It’s a way for more people to benefit from the donation.”
Currently, there are nearly 97,000 people in the United States waiting for a kidney transplant. Due to a shortage of donors and complications with compatibility, only a small percentage of those people will end up receiving a transplant, and the wait can take years. With paired donations, recipients who have incompatible donors swap donors to in order to make a match.
“To donate an organ is a powerful thing,” said Sheakley. “Once I learned I may be able to help someone else have the chance to spend more time with his or her loved ones, the question became: ‘Why wouldn’t I want to be part of that?’”
On February 5, 2013, Sheakley had surgery with Dr. Tan at Piedmont Atlanta. In return for Sheakley’s donation, her recipient’s loved one donated a kidney to another patient at Piedmont Atlanta. The exchange continued until four patients ended up with the kidneys they needed.
“Two or three weeks after my surgery, I kind of forgot that I had even had it,” Sheakley said. “I was ready to resume my workout regimen after just a couple of weeks, so it was hard for me to get used to walking instead.”
A few weeks from today, Sheakley will be meeting the person she donated her kidney to, nearly six months after her surgery. She hopes that one day, all the patients involved in the paired exchange will have a chance to meet.
For more information about becoming a living organ donor, visit piedmonttransplant.org.