Following in Samantha’s Footsteps

Tim Joos, a Donate Life Illinois volunteer, has been making headlines in the past few months due to his decision to further save and enhance lives through living donation. In today’s post, Tim shares his donation experience. Thank you, Tim, for sharing your experience! -Joslyn

In November of 2003, our 17-year-old daughter, Samantha, was killed in an automobile accident on her way to school during a heavy rain storm.  We knew that Sam wanted to be a donor because we had discussed the topic immediately after she received her driver’s license.   Due to the severity of the accident, she was not able to donate her major organs, but was able to donate many of her tissues.  Her heart valves saved one life and her other tissues have improved many lives (23 so far).

As anyone who has lost a child knows, your life will change in many significant ways.  You also need to find ways to deal with the immense feeling of loss.  Volunteering for Gift of Hope and Donate Life Illinois has allowed me the opportunity to keep Samantha’s memory alive and “give back” at the same time.

I have been speaking to groups about organ & tissue donation and sharing Sam’s story of donation for over four years now.  In doing so, I discuss both living and deceased donation.  I explain the impact we can all have by donating blood, bone marrow, a kidney, or a piece of our liver while we are still alive.  After having this discussion many times, I started asking myself why I wasn’t doing more and decided to pursue being a living kidney donor.

I contacted a Transplant Coordinator at Loyola in Maywood to begin my donation journey.  After an initial screening to make sure I was an acceptable kidney donor candidate, I began going through a process that would include every medical test known to man (at least it seemed that way) and would take months to complete.  Finally, I passed all the tests and was ready; I just needed a matching recipient.

Unknown to me, there were two other altruistic (or “good Samaritan”) donors going through the process at the same time as me and the kidney transplant surgeons at Loyola were developing a proposal for a national kidney donation chain called “Pay It Forward”.  The program was announced at the end of March via a press conference held at Loyola.

Basically, a chain consists of an altruistic donor and pairs of recipients and non-matching donors (usually friends or relatives of the potential recipient).  The difference between Loyola’s program and the typical chain is that the National Kidney Registry is coordinating the matching process with donors and recipients across the country instead of just looking within a single transplant center.

My donation surgery occurred at 2:00 AM on Tuesday, May 11th.  This time was picked to allow the chain to complete three links on the same day.  My left kidney went to a woman in Harrisburg, PA.  Her willing donor’s kidney went to a recipient in California.  Their willing donor’s kidney went to a recipient somewhere else in Pennsylvania.  Transporting the kidneys is a lot more efficient than transporting the patients allowing three successful transplants in a single day spanning the country twice.

One of the most common questions asked is about the recovery for a kidney donor.  The official recommendation consists of two things:
1.Don’t lift anything weighing more than 15 pounds for six weeks.
2.If it hurts, don’t do it.  (A good rule of thumb for us all.)

In my case, I was taking 3-mile walks after 2 weeks, 20-mile bicycle rides after 4 weeks, and back to riding my Harley after 5 weeks.

It is a very rewarding feeling knowing that I’ve helped someone in need and gotten them off of kidney dialysis.  I also feel like I’m following in Samantha’s footsteps and that she would be proud of me.

If you’re in excellent health and would like to share that feeling, contact a transplant center near you.

-Tim

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