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Local living kidney donor shares her story during National Kidney Month (sponsored)


People awaiting a lifesaving kidney transplant make up 85% of the national donor waiting list

Donna Kapala never expected to be a complete match but, after a series of tests, she learned that one of her kidneys could save the life of someone she met 41 years prior on a teaching assignment to Australia. Her friend Sheila Hoban, one of the “six amigas,” was on the national waiting list and thanks to Kapala’s life-saving gift, she is alive and healthy today.

“We were at a reunion in Colorado and Sheila, who was on dialysis, couldn’t attend,” said Kapala. “She was on the kidney transplant waiting list and, given her age and other factors, she shared with us via phone that she was fairly far down on the list. Sheila was hopeful her sister would be a match and before we got off the call I told her, ‘Give me a call if she cannot donate. I have two and only need one of them.’ I never expected to get a call but I am so glad that I did.”

Kapala is a living organ donor. A living organ donor is someone who is alive and healthy when they donate an organ, usually a kidney or a part of their liver. Last year, more than 6,400 people became living donors, which spared patients a long and uncertain wait on a national waiting list. About 85% of the people on the national transplant waiting list are waiting for a kidney transplant making kidneys the most in-demand organ. The need is great and continues to grow with an average of 3,000 new patients added to the kidney transplant waiting list each month.

“Kidney disease is often referred to as a ‘silent disease,’ as there are usually no symptoms during its early stages,” said Janice Whaley, President and CEO at Donor Network West, the only federally recognized organ procurement organization in northern Nevada. “With so many people on the national waiting list for a life-saving kidney, living donors like Kapala are true heroes. Their selfless act provides thousands of people the gift of life.”

For the majority of patients, a kidney transplant is the best option for kidney disease. According to Donate Life, the average waiting time for a donor kidney from a deceased donor is three to five years and could be longer in some parts of the country. With a living donor, patients may be able to receive a transplant in one year or less.

At 68-years-old, the kidney transplant, which took place in August of 2018, was a success. 

“Donna is one of those people who is incredibly altruistic,” said Hoban. “We hadn’t seen each other in so long and she came out of the blue—after not having seen one another in years—and offered to be my donor. She was the only one who tested for me and she was a perfect match. I started crying. I was overcome. She’s an amazing human being.” 

Family members are often the most likely to be compatible living kidney donors, but many people undergo successful transplants with kidneys donated from people unrelated to them. Living donors have a full medical exam, must be at least 18 years old, and in good physical and mental health. 

“I feel great and I am so thankful my good health allowed me this chance to help Sheila,” said Kapala. “I give thanks that I could give the gift of life as my way of paying it forward and hope my grandchildren see me as a selfless person who cares about others.”

Kapala continues to give back with her dog, Hunny, a rescued mini Aussie and Therapy Dog at Renown Health and both are Donor Network West ambassadors, helping to share the importance of becoming a registered organ donor in the community. 

To learn more about organ and tissue donation, including living donation, or to register as an organ donor, visit the Department of Motor Vehicles or DonorNetworkWest.org.

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