Hospital Employee and Friend Observe Anniversary of ‘Extraordinary Gift’
All anniversaries are special occasions, but some are more memorable than others. For Washington Hospital occupational therapist Christine Renner and her long-time friend Carla Wright, February 16th marked an extraordinary first anniversary, commemorating the day Renner donated her left kidney to Wright.
"I am still so grateful to Chris," Wright notes. "Because of the complicated process of matching organ donors to recipients, it would have been a long wait for me to get a kidney transplant without her ‘living donation.’ It’s difficult to fully thank someone for such an amazing gift."
Renner responds: "I can’t believe it has been a whole year. I’m glad that Carla has been able to continue living her life fully. I would certainly still do it for her, knowing everything that I know now."
Today, the two women – who met in the fall of 1975 when they lived in the same dorm at Cottey College in Missouri – are both doing well and are back at work.
"Everything is pretty much back to normal, and I’m working at the hospital now more than ever," Renner says. "I was able to take nine weeks off work, thanks to my hospital co-workers who donated their sick leave to me. I’ve had no complications following my recovery."
Wright, who lives in Sacramento and is a staff attorney for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, took a three-month leave before returning to work full time. "Some kidney transplant patients go back to work sooner, but I appreciated the extra recovery time to make sure I was in good health."
Her co-workers also helped Wright during her recovery, just as Renner’s did. "When I left work before the surgery, my colleagues gave a going-away party on my birthday, February 11, and gave me three bags full of books from their own collections so I’d have plenty to read during my recovery," Wright says. "They also took over my cases during my absence and brought dinners to my home."
Wright’s recovery was more complicated than Renner’s because of the risks of organ rejection and infection, but she says, "Now I can do pretty much everything I used to do before. My medication therapy has evened out. I now need only two anti-rejection drugs, taking five pills two times a day. I do avoid buffet restaurants and foods like seafood that have a higher risk of contamination because the anti-rejection drugs suppress my immune system, making infections more of a threat.
"At first I wore a surgical mask to avoid the risk of infection in crowds, but now I even go to the movies without a mask," she adds. "I even traveled to Las Vegas for Thanksgiving with my husband’s family, and I just got back from a trip to Kansas to visit relatives in the midst of a 19-inch snowstorm!"
Renner’s year following surgery has been remarkable in a different way, as she experienced several instances of what she describes as "one good turn deserves another." Her quilting group, for example, made her a special quilt using fabrics from the 1940s and ‘50s, recognizing her love for "retro" objects from that era.
"I’ve also had patients at the hospital come up to me and share their stories after watching the hospital’s video of Carla’s and my experience," Renner says. "Another example of someone doing something nice for me because I donated a kidney is that Carla’s step-mother has arranged for me to get a kitty – a Bengal cat. She knew that I had lost two of my cats and was considering adopting a new one."
The two friends have seen each other quite frequently over the past year. Both women took part in a panel discussion at an organ transplant conference at U.C. Davis in September, sharing their experience along with other pairs of donors and recipients. Wright traveled to the Bay Area in October to see Renner’s remodeled house. The two also took a trip to meet the cat breeder in Manteca and tour around the town of Sonora. Then Renner surprised Wright by traveling to Sacramento on February 11 to celebrate Wright’s birthday.
Looking ahead, the friends are planning to give a presentation about organ transplantation on March 26 in Sacramento to fellow members of the International P.E.O. Sisterhood. P.E.O. is the philanthropic educational organization that sponsors and runs their alma mater, Cottey College.
"We’re trying to do our part to increase awareness of organ donations," Renner says. "There are approximately 26 million Americans with chronic kidney disease, and we want to encourage people to get tested to see if they are suitable to donate."
They also are planning a more light-hearted reunion. "Years ago, Carla and I watched the royal wedding of Charles and Diana together," Renner explains. "So now we are getting together to watch the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in April."
Watch Their Story on InHealth
InHealth, a Washington Hospital Channel, is now airing the television program that follows Renner and Wright and through their transplant experience. "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 from your home computer or mobile device on Washington Hospital's website, www.inhealth.tv.