The Greatest Gift

Michele Schneible with her uncle, a year after transplant surgery

By Michele Schneible

My name is Michele Schneible, and this is the story of how I came to donate one of my kidneys to my uncle Ben.

In 1964, Ben was 26 years old and newly married. During a routine health exam, he discovered that his blood pressure was in the 140s and there was an elevated amount of protein in his urine. Based on the exam results, his doctor told Ben he would be a candidate for dialysis. Many tests later, he was diagnosed with glomeuralnephritis, which caused scarring of the nephrons in his kidneys. Ben managed to avoid dialysis for 36 years until eventually he noticed that with the slightest exertion, he would lose energy immediately, his heart would pound rapidly and he would vomit.

Ben thought he was actually having heart failure, but thorough testing proved it was his kidneys passing the threshold of their function, and he finally needed dialysis. After Ben started peritoneal dialysis, he was then put on the transplant list in 1991. In January of 1993, he was approved for a transplant and received a cadaver kidney. But there were complications within the first few years due to renal stenosis. After that, Ben had no other problems and managed to have 17 good years of kidney function. But much to his dismay, after 17 years, his transplant kidney began to deteriorate. He then went back on continuous dialysis, hooked to a machine he had at home for eight to 10 hours a night while he slept.

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Gift of Life: An Organ Donor’s Story

In addition to overseeing Rush’s abdominal transplant program, Rachel Thomas has experienced the transformative effect of transplant firsthand.

Nearly seven years ago, Thomas — who is service line and program administrator, solid organ transplant, hepatology and nephrology — donated one of her own kidneys to be transplanted into her husband at the time, who previously had spent 13 years on dialysis due to focal segmental glomerulosclersosi (FSGS).

“We had a baby, and I knew the quality of life for my entire family would improve,” says Thomas, MBA, BSN, RN, CNN. “We’d been working our life around being at a dialysis center three days a week.”

Thomas underwent a minimally invasive laparoscopic procedure to donate her kidney, spent less than a day in the hospital and went back to work eight days later. She also had a second child after making her donation, and the entire family has remained in good health since, and although he and Thomas eventually divorced, she’s glad she could provide him with his life-changing gift.

“I’m grateful that my kids’ lives aren’t built around seeing their dad’s illness,” she says.

Not surprisingly, Thomas is a strong advocate for organ donation, especially for kidney donation by living donors. “Donations by living donors always have better outcomes and better survival rates than donations from deceased donors. Living donors also have an emotional investment in the other person, which enhances quality of life and survival,” Thomas says. “If my husband had received a deceased donor kidney, that would have been one less kidney out there for someone else, so I’ve kind of saved two lives,” she adds.

Thomas encourages people to register to be organ donors, which can be done online at Donate Life Illinois.

Brian’s Story: After Kidney Tranplant, a ‘New Man’

By Cari Kornblit

For 25 years, Brian, a 49-year-old husband and father of two daughters, struggled with chronic kidney disease. By late 2008, Brian’s kidney disease had progressed to the point that his kidneys were failing. He needed to start considering a kidney transplant.

Brian began asking around to find out which hospital he should choose for his transplant. A vice president of a real estate development company, Brian asked the company’s president to get a recommendation from contacts he had at a Chicago hospital. Brian also spoke to a former co-worker and friend who had received a kidney transplant at Rush University Medical Center. He heard the same answer from both — go to Rush. Brian says what really swayed him to choose Rush was the personalized attention that he and his family received right away.

Earlier this year, a Rush transplant team led by surgeon Edward Hollinger, MD, performed a minimally invasive laparoscopic donor nephrectomy on his daughter, Kristina, to remove one of her kidneys, then transplanted the kidney into Brian. Here’s their story.

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Cari Kornblit is a writer at Rush. She is a Pittsburgh native who worked for a hospital system in China for two years before coming to Rush.