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.