Same-town couples share friendship—and organ donor experience
“It was unbelievable. Better than hitting the lottery.” That’s how Bruce Whitman describes organ donation. He should know. Just three years ago, his wife, Tina, gave him a second chance at life by donating one of her kidneys to him.
The Whitmans, Meade County RECC consumer-members, first met in high school. Bruce, a CSX railroad welder, and Tina, a Meade County RECC account representative, have shared a lot since then, including organ transplant surgery.
Bruce has a family history of polycystic kidney disease, a hereditary disorder that had already affected his family, including his mother, who was on the transplant list awaiting a kidney. Even so, Tina says it was a shock when Bruce, 43 at the time, received the same diagnosis.
“He started showing signs, went to the doctor, and they told him he had the disease as well and probably within about five years would need a transplant,” she recalls.
tion level dropped, and doctors recommended he begin the process of being placed on the transplant list. That started with testing. “He had to go through a lot of tests to make sure he was even healthy enough to receive a kidney because they’re not just going to just put someone on the list if they have other health issues,” Tina says.
When doctors asked if Bruce knew anyone willing to get tested, in hopes of finding a compatible donor, Tina volunteered, and testing determined it would be possible for her to donate a kidney. In the meantime, Bruce’s mom took a turn for the worse and passed away in June of that year.
Bruce’s transplant surgery was done on August 15, 2017.
Three years later, Bruce has perfect kidney function, goes to work every day, and lives a “normal life.” He and Tina enjoy traveling and spending time with their two children and three grandchildren.
Tina says she’s had no complications: “I’ve gone back to living life just like I did before. I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
One of Bruce and Tina’s first dates was attending the wedding of Randy and Shannon Knott, also Meade County RECC consumer-members. The couples have remained friends, and now they have something else in common—organ donation.
About five years ago, Shannon learned she had IgA nephropathy, an autoimmune disorder that affects the kidneys. “It doesn’t run in families; it’s kind of like the luck-of-the-draw disease,” Shannon explains. “But there are more cases of IgA nephropathy in the state of Kentucky than there are in the rest of the United States.”
At first, Shannon was treated with steroids, but they stopped working and she needed a kidney transplant. “Randy didn’t even blink an eye at being tested or at the thought of being a donor,” Shannon says. “He was like, ‘Let’s do it.’”
It turns out, Randy’s kidney was a match. During this time, Shannon often texted Tina for reassurance. “It was just nice to know that somebody else had gone through it and that it was OK,” she says.
The transplant surgery took place August 15, 2019—the same date as the Whitmans’ surgery just two years earlier.
Following their surgery, the Knotts had help from their children, Hayden, 16, and Leena, 13.
Today, Randy, 46, a dock laborer at Riverside Stone and Shannon, 43, a Payneville Elementary special education teacher, are both doing well, although Shannon was treated for a rejection episode back in April. “Right now, everything is really good, and I feel really good,” she says.
Randy notices a difference in Shannon, saying, “She was tired all the time, and she’s more peppy now.”
Give hope, give life
While the Whitmans and Knotts experienced a living donation, others are hoping an organ from a deceased donor will give them a second chance at life. Currently, 1,000 Kentuckians and more than 113,000 people across the United States are on the organ donation waiting list.
The good news is Kentucky has one of the fastest growing organ donation registries in the nation. Shelley Snyder, vice president of strategic partnerships with Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates (KODA), says, “Sixty-two percent of Kentuckians are registered organ donors.”
Regardless of age or past health history, she says, becoming an organ donor is simple and everyone can do it. “It truly gives hope to thousands of patients and their families who are dying and waiting and in need of a lifesaving organ transplant,” she says. As of August 20, KODA has honored the wishes of 112 organ donors this year, resulting in the recovery and transplantation of 340 organs—a 25% increase over the same time frame in 2019.
For anyone considering organ donation, Tina says there is nothing greater. “It’s a life-changing thing if you can do that for somebody.”
While Bruce is thankful for every day, he and Tina do have days when they joke about it, too. “She teases me every once in a while about it. She’s like, ‘You just remember who gave you that kidney,’” he says, laughing.
Becoming a Registered Organ Donor is Easy
Simply visit your Kentucky Circuit Court Clerk’s office or the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. Note: Access may be restricted due to COVID-19. Register online at Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates’ website. For iPhone users, go to your health app and toggle organ donor to register.
Know the Difference
Living organ donation involves a living donor giving lung or liver tissue, or a kidney to a living recipient. With deceased organ donation, a donor has registered to donate their organs (heart, lungs, liver, etc.) after death to a living donor on the transplant waiting list.
Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates (KODA)
Founded in 1987, KODA serves 114 Kentucky counties, four southern Indiana counties and two West Virginia counties. It works in the hospital with families, ensuring that donation and transplantation happen. It also partners with Kentucky Circuit Court Clerks’ Trust For Life, which is dedicated to public education about organ donation, as well as Kentucky Lions Eye Bank, which works with cornea donations.
KODA is available 24/7, 365 days a year via live chat on its website, donatelifeky.org; via email through its contact page; or phone (502) 581-9511. Headquarters: 10160 Linn Station Road, Louisville, with offices in Bowling Green, Lexington, Paducah and Pikeville.
To read Gift of Life Stories, visit https://donatelifeky.org/stories/
Also, check out KODA’s YouTube Channel.