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​​Donna Germann & Robyn McCracken Living Donor Kidney Transplant Patient Story

senior mom and daughter in masks

Donna Germann is a wife, mother of a son and daughter, and the Senior Executive Director at Artis Senior Living of Elmhurst, IL. Donna joined Artis Senior Living in 2018 with a passion for senior living that stems from her own experience with her parents. “The time I spent with them helped me in the role I have at Artis. I have greater compassion and understanding about aging and end of life,” Donna said.

In 1994, Donna was diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney Disease 1 Autosomal Dominant (PKD), a disease that causes cysts to form on the kidneys. When too many cysts grow — or if they get too large — severe kidney damage can occur and may lead to kidney failure.

“The diagnosis was a surprise because no one in my family had PKD,” recalled Donna. “At that point, and for the first several years, my kidney function was high and I had no symptoms. I was prepared to deal with what was ahead as things progressed with my disease.”

Donna’s kidney function slowly declined, but it wasn’t until March of 2021 that it dropped to below 20%  which meant it was time for her and her family to pursue a donor. She was put on an “inactive” donor list pending a multitude of tests that revealed a 6mm brain aneurysm (common with PKD) that needed to be resolved via catheter treatment. Donna sought the treatment she needed and, once healed, in September 2021, she was added to the “active” donor list.  

The Realities of Finding a Kidney Donor

Like all people who need a kidney transplant, Donna had the option of a transplant with a deceased donor’s kidney or one from a living donor. Both options present challenges when it comes to finding a kidney that is a blood and tissue match.

Obtaining a kidney from a living donor eliminates the wait often associated with other options. Unfortunately, the number of people volunteering to donate a kidney doesn’t meet the demand. In 2020, 5,725 people received a kidney from a living donor, saving only 15%  of those waiting for one.

Donna knew that she was going to have to seek living donors in order to avoid full kidney failure resulting in dialysis treatments, which would decrease her chances of eligibility for a future transplant.

The Search for a Living Donor Begins

Of the handful of people who knew Donna needed a transplant, she had seven family members and friends willing to attempt to be a living donor. Only one candidate made it to the final stages, but underlying health conditions were discovered during the process. One friend also had gotten approved, but because the blood types between Donna and her friend weren’t  a match, they were added to a paired exchange program. With kidney-paired exchange, the donor donates their kidney to another recipient in exchange for a compatible kidney for you. This leaves an undetermined time frame for actual donation. 

Donna realized she would need to spread her reach a bit further. She finally felt it was time to open up about this on Facebook, sharing her journey with 585 friends on September 17, 2021. Robyn McCracken, Vice President of Health & Wellness at Artis Senior Living, also Donna’s Facebook friend, saw the post. 

Robyn reached out to Donna immediately after reading her post, inquiring how the donation process worked, and Donna shared the details of the transplant program at Loyola University Hospital. 

“It sounds crazy, but after reading Donna’s post, I knew I was meant to be her donor,” Robyn said.  Robyn filled out the questionnaire that same evening, but didn’t share much detail with Donna to protect her from disappointment in case she wasn’t a candidate. Robyn forged ahead and went through the rigorous medical evaluation needed to become a living donor, unbeknownst to Donna. Robyn was assigned a Living Donor Coordinator from Loyola who helped her through the process. After over two months of a battery of medical tests, obstacles, and trips back and forth from Robyn’s hometown of Monaca, PA, to Chicago, she received word that she was finally approved to be Donna’s living donor.

“It was an emotional roller coaster from the beginning up until surgery. There were days I was hopeful and looking forward to the next step. Other days I became frustrated with the delays. But throughout the process, I understood and appreciated the thoroughness of Loyola’s criteria, and that they truly had my best interests  in mind,” Robyn said. 

Robyn reached out to Donna to share the news after she was confident the surgery was being scheduled. 

Donna recalled, “I had sent Robin a work-related email and she asked me how the process was going. I told her that I had just done what I thought was routine blood work, but also had to sign documents that I would be willing to accept a kidney that had been exposed to hepatitis B and/or C. I wasn’t too crazy about it, but the decision had to be made that day and was final. I agreed, believing if I had no other option, it was better than dialysis. She called me and told me she needed to tell me something and she had been praying on it and didn’t know how to handle it. She told me she had gone through the process and was a perfect match for me.” When asked how she felt learning the news, Donna said, “Overwhelmed. Grateful. Robyn was so confident from the very beginning that she was the one and this was clearly driven from a higher being.”

Things moved quickly from there and the donation took place on 12/15/2021 with great success! 

Life with a New Kidney

Donna and Robyn agree that choosing Loyola University Medical Center put them in the best hands.

“The knowledge, expertise and wisdom of everyone at Loyola was second to none,” said Donna. “Everyone was diligent and caring, down to the techs who took my vitals at 4 a.m.”

Donna said that after the transplant she felt better immediately and her energy levels came racing back.

“Before the transplant I was sleeping 10 hours a night and waking up exhausted,” she said. “I realized after the transplant how bad I had really felt.”

Robyn’s selfless act to help a fellow co-worker has been life-changing for Donna. 

“The morning after it was confirmed the transplant was moving forward, I woke up early and was able to flash forward to all the things  I hoped for, but wasn’t sure I could achieve: seeing our son graduate from college, having grandchildren, traveling, being able to  continue to work and support my family. Robyn has given me the gift of life, not only to me but my entire family,” Donna concluded.

If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a living donor, call the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) toll-free at 888-TXINFO1 (888-894-6361) or visit their site on Living Donation https://unos.org/.

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