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Washington Hospital Employee Gives Her Friend an Extraordinary Gift

May 07, 2010

Would you give your right arm to save the life of your friend? How about your left kidney?

Washington Hospital occupational therapist Christine Renner and her friend Carla Wright have known each other since the fall of 1975, when the two of them lived in the same dorm at Cottey College in Nevada, Missouri. The bond between the two women that developed while they were in college remained strong over the years as each went her separate way.

While the two women lived far apart for many years, they kept in close contact, getting together whenever Renner visited her family in the Bay Area. Renner even lived with Wright and her husband for a summer.

"As the years have gone by, we have always been involved in each other's lives," Renner notes. "I knew that Carla suffered from some medical complications, but it wasn't until I got together with her this past October that I realized she was having kidney problems. I told her I would do anything for her and offered to donate a kidney."

"When I was pregnant in 1990, I learned that I had an underlying kidney condition called glomerulosclerosis," Wright recalls. "It's a progressive disease that causes scarring of the kidney's tiny blood vessels, and the kidneys stop functioning properly. I never had to go on dialysis, but by last September the problem had grown so severe that I was referred to the UC-Davis Transplant Center for evaluation."

The day after Renner and Wright got together in October, Wright went to the UC-Davis Transplant Center to start testing to see if she was healthy enough to withstand transplant surgery. She underwent a series of lab tests to make sure she didn't have any other health issues that would preclude receiving a donated kidney. She also emailed Renner to confirm that her friend was truly willing to be a kidney donor.

The coordinator for transplant donors sent Renner a kit for blood and tissue samples. It turned out that she and Wright were a match for blood type, and they were also a tissue match. The week before Christmas, Renner went in for a variety of other tests - including an angiogram of the kidney and a treadmill test. She also had to undergo a 24-hour study of her blood pressure, since the loss of a kidney can cause an elevated blood pressure. On January 17, the coordinator called Renner to give her the go-ahead to be the donor.

"I was surprised that Chris was a good match for donation," Wright says. "It's unusual for a non-relative to be such a good match. My husband and another friend had also offered to be donors, but their body mass indexes were too high. My half-siblings also were not good candidates."

On February 15, Renner's sister Eleanor drove her up to Wright's home in Sacramento, and the next day the women both went into the hospital at UC-Davis Medical Center for the lengthy surgeries. The surgical team first went in laparoscopically to view the blood vessels around Renner's left kidney (the left kidney usually has a better blood supply) and then they opened up the abdomen to withdraw the kidney. After testing the kidney to ensure that it was functioning properly, they inserted it into Wright's body, again going through the abdomen.

Today, both women are recovering well. "All my lab tests are what they are supposed to be," Wright says. "I have taken three months off work, but I may go back sooner if I recover faster. The most difficult part is dealing with the huge change in my lifestyle. I must avoid large crowds and observe stringent food-safety and hygiene standards. I also take medications at 12-hour intervals, avoiding calcium and dairy products within several hours of taking the medications, weighing myself daily and taking my temperature and blood pressure every morning and night. I'm paying much more attention to my body, since I need to be vigilant to watch for signs of infection or rejection of the kidney."

Renner is also taking time off from her work at Washington Hospital, thanks to the generosity of her co-workers.

"Several people donated their paid time off so that I will have eight to ten weeks of paid leave," she adds.

Renner has no regrets about donating her kidney. "I'm really happy I did it, and I haven't looked back at all," she says. "I look forward to spending many more years with my friend. She means a lot to me. She has taken on managing her recovery like it's a new job, which impresses me and gives me strength, too."

In April, Wright and Renner celebrated the successful transplant by having a nice dinner together.

"Because we're both members of the same sorority, we have always been 'sisters,' but now we are really, truly sisters because I have her kidney," Wright says.


Watch Their Story on InHealth, Channel 78

InHealth, a Washington Hospital Channel, is now airing a program that follows Carla Wright and Christine Renner through their transplant surgery and recovery. "Voices InHealth, The Greatest Gift of All" takes a special look at the relationship and generosity of two friends. The show also highlights the California Transplant Donor Network and how organ and tissue transplants offer patients a new chance for a healthy and productive life. InHealth Channel 78 is available to Comcast subscribers in Newark, Union City and Fremont. You can also watch the show on Washington Hospital's website, www.whhs.com/inhealth.