As gifts go, Kim Schwede will never be able to top the one she gave her boss, Michael Mancina, in the spring. There was no wrapping paper, but it was the best present he’d ever received: a kidney.
Schwede, a Shawnee resident, has worked for Mancina, a cardiologist and internist, for 11 years.
The two say they feel they’re almost like family. He helped her father get an important cardiac operation several years ago, and both of their families spend time together outside of work.
So when Schwede, 56, heard that Mancina, who is diabetic, needed a kidney after a bout of pneumonia severely damaged his, she signed up to get tested.
“I was close to the situation, and I knew he was going to need a kidney and that there were a lot of people that had stepped forward for testing, and at that point, nobody was a match for him,” Schwede said. “So, I volunteered, thinking it was a shot in the dark, but each test was more indicative.”
Over a period of six months, Schwede went for more and more tests, each one more specific than the last. She and Mancina each met with separate teams of doctors, nurses, social workers, psychologists and other specialists as part of the process.
“They were very concerned, because I am an employee of Dr. Mancina’s, that I was feeling pressured to do it,” Schwede said. “But they could see it wasn’t an employer-employee relationship, even though that level of respect was there. There’s strong family ties there, too.”
Finally, she got the word that she was a match.
“I just went in (the office) and said, ‘Hey, it’s time to set a date,’” Schwede said.
Mancina knew she had gotten fairly far in the phases of testing.
“I just was on stand-by, so to speak, waiting to hear if Kim was going to qualify,” he said.
Much of the testing and the actual operation took place at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, which boasts more than 8,000 successful kidney transplants. It’s also where Mancina, 66, went to medical school.
The transplant operation is carefully staged, and Schwede’s kidney was only disconnected for 93 seconds before it was safely implanted in Mancina.
Both were only hospitalized for five days after the operation. As a joke, Mancina got a wig that resembled Schwede’s hair and wore it when he went to see her as they were recovering.
Almost immediately after the surgery, Mancina said he felt so much better than he had since he’d gotten sick.
“It’s just like I’m back to normal,” he said, although he’s still taking it easy to allow his body to heal.
Schwede said she doesn’t even have a scar. Much of the procedure was laparoscopic, which means the doctors make smaller incisions, and a plastic surgeon seals the wounds with glue instead of stitches.
Although most donated kidneys come from cadavers, the American Association of Kidney Patients says that kidneys from living donors last longer on average.
“Most normal people can live with one kidney,” Dr. Mancina said.
He said a lot of people don’t realize that donations can come from living people as well as posthumous bequests.
This wasn’t the first time Schwede had considered donating. About 10 years ago, she’d seen a case on the news where a young girl needed a kidney, and she got tested then. After the first test, she knew she wasn’t a match.
This time, she waited until she’d done several tests before she told her family what she was going to do. At first, her husband was surprised, but he quickly agreed with her decision, and so did her two grown children.
“We’d have family dinners and he and (Mancina’s fiancée) Marjorie would be there, and both of my parents would say, ‘Isn’t there anybody that’s a match? Isn’t there anything anyone can do?’” Schwede said.
Mancina calls the amount of support from Schwede’s family “tremendous.”
She waited to tell her parents until she had a date for the surgery.
When she told them, Schwede said, “My mom said, ‘I’ve been praying so hard for a kidney to show up for Dr. Mancina. I just never knew I was praying for it to be you.’”