When Lori Kloepping got pregnant decades ago, it was quite a shock to her and her husband, Eric, who'd had a vasectomy.
Lori Kloepping had lupus, which made the pregnancy risky for her, and her doctor recommended an abortion.
"We didn't keep him for a lupus doctor. We chose to keep her," Eric Kloepping said Friday, nodding to his now-grown daughter, Kara McGhee, who was lying in a hospital bed.
When the lupus caused Lori Kloepping's kidneys to shut down last year, McGhee was there to offer up one of hers — a decision that not only saved her mom, but a stranger as well.
McGhee and Kloepping were part of an eight-person kidney transplant chain this week at Research Medical Center, the largest in the hospital's 36 years of doing organ transplants and the second-largest ever in Kansas City.
The University of Kansas Hospital completed a 10-person chain in January, transplanting five kidneys into five recipients over two days.
Kidney transplant chains are a relatively new phenomenon. People who are in need of a kidney and have a donor who doesn't match get paired with a stranger who is a match. As long as that stranger also has a willing donor lined up, the chain can continue.
In Research Medical Center's case, that meant four kidney removals and four kidney transplants on Wednesday and Thursday, after months of planning.
"I'm just so proud of our physicians and staff," said chief medical officer Olevia Pitts. "This is phenomenal to be able to coordinate, to do it well and to have a positive impact on so many people."
Pitts said her father got a kidney transplant in 2004 from Daniel Murillo, the surgeon who performed the four transplants this week. His colleague Joe Cates performed the extractions.
The kidney donors face four to six weeks of recovery time. The recipients face that, plus a lifetime of taking medications to suppress their immune systems and lower the risk of rejection.
But after 16 years of kidney trouble, Kenneth Hensley of Albany, Mo., didn't seem to mind any of that.
Hensley, 83, had been on the transplant waiting list for more than four years, and on dialysis for a year. One day after receiving his new kidney, he was already feeling better than before and planning trips around the country to see children and grandchildren.
Even visiting his son in Jefferson City had become difficult to work around his dialysis schedule, he said.
Hensley's grandson donated his kidney to a stranger so that Hensley could get one from someone he may never meet.
"I'd probably like to someday," Hensley said. "I don't need to today. (But) I'd sure thank him."
McGhee may never meet the person who got her kidney. But she only had to go down the hall Thursday to see the effect getting one had on her mom.
"It was kind of overwhelming, seeing her, knowing that she has her kidney and I'm missing one," McGhee said. "We've been waiting for this point and we did it. We got here, we're alive, we got through surgery and we're here. She's going to have more life and a better life."
Eric Kloepping was also overwhelmed, after what he described as "a very hard day" with both his wife and his daughter in surgery.
After watching his wife struggle for years, a brighter future was ahead because of the baby girl they never thought they'd have.
"It's just huge," Eric Kloepping said. "It's so huge. Yeah, she's my hero, to go through all this so her mom could live."