UAMS Helps College Student Donate Kidney to Mena Man
Twenty-one-year-old Alissa Pitcher of Grand Rapids, Mich., was moved last spring by a Mena, Arkansas, mother’s plea on behalf of her son.
The request for prayers came via e-mail from an old family friend, Tammy Hamelink, whose 23-year-old son, Kryn, was in desperate need of a kidney transplant.
As Alissa’s mother read Tammy’s e-mail aloud, Alissa became curious, recalling her thoughts on her Web site blog: “What if I could do this? Can I really help in this way? As soon as Mom read Kryn’s blood type (O), my curiosity grew stronger. I knew that my blood type was compatible with his.”
Tammy’s e-mail also mentioned a contact at UAMS, Diane Richards, R.N., living donor transplant coordinator, for those who might be interested in donating a kidney.
Alissa, a student at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, made the call to Diane, who counseled her as she went through the testing that eventually led to Pitcher being declared a match in the fall.
“Basically, she has made herself available to me at anytime,” Alissa wrote on her Web site blog. “I call. She answers. Yes, she is as busy as ever, my goodness. But yet she still has time to not only answer my phone calls, but go in depth and make sure all is well on this end.”
When Alissa learned that she was a match, she informed her parents, who embraced her decision.
“I just felt such a peace about it,” Alissa said. “I was like, ‘I’m young, I’m healthy, I can do this.'”
Kryn’s kidney function, meanwhile, had dropped to about 8 percent. The loss of function was due to Alports syndrome, a hereditary condition that affects kidney function as well as vision and hearing. He was fatigued, retaining fluid, and there was an increasingly strong, ammonia-like taste in his mouth. Without a new kidney, dialysis was looming.
After Alissa told her parents, she called Kryn’s family, and his mother answered. Alissa recalled her reaction on her blog:
“Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness!… Tammy was a little excited. :)”
Kryn wasn’t at home for Alissa’s phone call that evening. “I was at youth group, and my sister pulled me aside and said, ‘We found a match for you, and I was like, ‘Yes!'”
Surgery was set for Dec. 9, allowing Alissa to wrap up her semester work and to recover before the spring semester began. UAMS transplant surgeon Frederick Bentley, M.D., and laparoscopic surgeon Diane Rhoden, M.D., removed Alissa’s kidney through a 2-inch incision using minimally invasive techniques. Dr. Bentley then performed the transplant.
Two weeks after surgery, both Kryn and Alissa were doing well.
“I feel great,” Kryn said during a follow-up visit three days before Christmas. “My energy levels are way higher than they were before the surgery.”
“It’s just been amazing how well its gone,” said Alissa, who was able to leave the hospital after just two days.
Her father, Randy Pitcher, said the families were impressed by the UAMS experience.
“The hospital and the people here, even the housekeepers and the people who bring food are so polite and so accommodating. They always have a smile and a kind word to say. I’ve never sat in a waiting room where they give you a beeper and update you every step of the surgery. It was awesome to get those updates.”
Dr. Bentley said it was rare to have such a young donor and recipient. Typical recipients are in their 40s and older, and living non-related donors are usually spouses.
Dr. Bentley noted that immediately after surgery Pitcher’s kidney function was reduced by half, but in six months it will be back to 85 percent.
The other kidney works harder and actually gets larger, Dr. Bentley said. People live whole lives with just one kidney with no problem.
Diane Richards said she was impressed by Alissa throughout the process.
“It was remarkable to see her, as young as she is, come forward like she did,” Diane said. “She was willing to interrupt her whole life; it was truly a selfless act.”
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