Christa Jordan had several reasons not to donate a kidney a few months ago.
She had just gotten married, and her husband was about to start graduate school. And her brother might need a kidney some day.
But the Children’s Mercy Hospital nurse had one very good reason to donate: a patient who also happened to be her friend needed a kidney, and she had one to give.
“I just knew it was something I had to do,” Jordan said. “It wasn’t something I questioned that much.”
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Jordan’s decision triggered a series of events that led to three people getting new organs, as the University of Kansas Hospital and Children’s Mercy collaborated for the first time on a kidney donation chain. Six surgeries were done at the two hospitals Oct. 29 and 30, and the three donors and three recipients all met at an emotional gathering Wednesday at Children’s Mercy.
Kidney donation chains involve multiple donors giving to people they don’t know, but match with, so that people they do know but don’t match with can also get a kidney. Earlier this summer Research Medical Center completed one that involved eight surgeries and four kidneys, just months after KU Hospital completed the region’s longest chain, with 10 surgeries and five kidneys.
Donation chains are still rare because of the amount of planning they take and also because they usually require at least one “altruistic donor” — a person who gives a kidney without knowing any of the recipients.
In the latest kidney chain, that was Ky Kanaman, a 25-year-old Baldwin City triathlete and businessman who, along with his wife, cares for adults with intellectual disabilities.
Kanaman said he contacted KU about being a living kidney donor after reading that there are more than 100,000 people in the United States who are on dialysis and need a transplant.
“I kind of looked at myself and said, ‘Well, I’ve got two and I’ve got plenty of ability to give one, I think,’” Kanaman said.
Kanaman was a match for Jordan’s friend, Dayshanae Hosman. Jordan was also a match, but not as good a match as Kanaman was. She was a better match for a person on KU’s list, Lauro Zuniga.
So Jordan agreed to give her kidney to Zuniga if Kanaman donated his kidney to Hosman. That meant that Zuniga’s mom, Carolina Perez, who wasn’t a match for her son, could give her kidney to another person on KU’s list: Matt Lewis.
“I feel like I won the lottery,” said Lewis, a 54-year-old from tiny Savonburg, in southeast Kansas.
Lewis was just months away from needing dialysis, and the nearest clinic was in Chanute, more than 20 miles away.
Zuniga, a 32-year-old from Wichita, had been on dialysis for six years. He has three children and has been doing dialysis three times a week, 4 to 5 hours each time, for almost their entire lives, while working evening shifts at construction jobs.
“School conferences and concerts were always at the same time (as work), so I could never be there,” Zuniga said. “When my youngest daughter was born, I couldn’t be there either because I was in dialysis. So now I think I’m going to spend more time with them and work more. When I was on dialysis I couldn’t always get all my hours in. I was always short. Short on money. Short on time. Short on everything.”
Zuniga said he started to think he would never get a transplant. But his mom was working with the KU team, in secret, to make it happen.
Perez, speaking through an interpreter, said she was crushed when she found out she wasn’t a match for her son. But after meeting the rest of the transplant chain Wednesday, it seemed meant to be.
“There are a lot of things that are possible with God,” Perez said.
Hosman and Jordan met at Bethel Baptist Church in Independence 15 years ago.
At the time, Hosman was a 5-year-old who had already been through a liver transplant and several other surgeries because of a genetic condition called Alagille syndrome.
The two developed an almost sisterly friendship, even though Jordan was six years older. They went shopping together, went on church outings and took trips to Branson and other nearby places. The relationship was part of what inspired Jordan to become a nurse.
When Hosman went on dialysis in April, Jordan knew she wanted to donate to her, even though her brother has only one functioning kidney.
“I don’t know if my brother will ever need a kidney,” Jordan said. “It’s just not something we can be certain of. But I knew, 100 percent, that my friend needed one.”
Now that she has one, Hosman said she’s looking forward to traveling again, definitely to Branson and maybe even to Europe some day. She’s also planning to start taking college courses online, maybe to be a dialysis technician or a social worker. And, of course, she wants to spend more time with her friend and her friend’s new husband.
“He’s been great,” Hosman said with a laugh. “I definitely approve the marriage.”