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Intimacy & Relationships

Donor Story: Neighbors for a Reason

Most people believe they get their neighbors by chance. But Linda Oakford and Jacquie Forry would tell you it was divine providence that made them neighbors in 1990.

Along the road of their friendship, Linda shared with Jacquie that she had Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD). PKD is a genetic disorder that is characterized by cysts on the kidneys, causing reduced kidney function and eventually leading to kidney failure. “I lost 18 relatives to PKD before they hit age 50. I lost my mom when she was 48, and growing up, I always knew there was a chance that I would have it as well.”

Linda typically kept this information to herself, choosing to let few people know about her illness. She wanted to live as normal life as possible. Jacquie understood the ramifications of Linda’s disease. Yet, it was hard to believe Linda had it because she seemed so healthy. “I always knew about Linda’s PKD, but it just never seemed real because she lived a very normal life, one just like mine.”

Linda and Jacquie in Hawaii, 2002

In 1996, Jacquie and her family needed to move again, but that didn’t stop Linda and Jacquie’s friendship. They kept in touch and could always pick up right where the left off with each other, even when they hadn’t spoken for months. “The distance couldn’t stop us; we had bonded. We kept in touch like family,” Linda said.

Reconnecting at a Thanksgiving dinner in 2000, Linda shared with Jacquie that her PKD had progressed, and she would most likely be starting dialysis in just a few months. Linda was headed to the doctor around Christmas to learn more about her options, which might also include a transplant. After learning that they were both blood type A+, Jacquie knew what she wanted to do. “I told Linda, ‘That settles it then, I’m giving you a kidney!’”

Shocked by the generosity, Linda refused at first. But by the end of the conversation, Jacquie had convinced her to consider it and asked for an update after Linda’s doctor appointment.

In early January of 2001, Linda and Jacquie were tested and they were indeed a match. By March they were headed to surgery for the transplant. “It all happened very quickly,” Linda said. “Jacquie was the only one tested and I was so grateful she was so eager and willing to donate her kidney to me. It was hard to know she was going into surgery for me, but I am so blessed because of it.”

“I didn’t think twice about it. I absolutely knew what I wanted to do — needed to do — had to do,” Jacquie said. “I didn’t do some amazing thing; I did what needed to be done. It was during that time when I learned why God made us neighbors — for us to both be able to truly live.”

Recovery time for each donor is different. Jacquie’s took about five weeks. Linda felt better instantly, and went back to work three months after the surgery.

“My lifestyle hasn’t changed at all since donating my kidney,” Jacquie said. “I feel great, and there was absolutely no downside to it. I can live a long and healthy life with one kidney, and every step of the process was worth it.”

Jacquie encourages everyone who is able to consider becoming a donor and hopes sharing her story will encourage others to take the leap. “There’s no reason not to be a donor. People don’t always have to suffer or have their life cut short anymore — you can make a difference by becoming an organ donor and saving someone’s life.”

Jacquie had only one requirement for giving Linda her kidney: She had to make the most of her life and give back. In 2005, Linda had a chance encounter with Lori Hartwell, founder of Renal Support Network (RSN).

“Lori sat down, said ‘Hi’ and promptly asked me, ‘Well, what are you going to do with your life? When are you going to come work for me?’ I said I might be willing to volunteer,” Linda said with a laugh.

Linda and Jacquie celebrate the fifth anniversary of the kidney transplant in California with their husbands, Joel and John, 2006.

Today, Linda works at RSN as a patient coordinator. She’s the first contact for anyone who calls RSN looking for information and provides patients, family members and caregivers with information, resources and encouragement throughout their journey.

Her biggest piece of advice is for patients to always keep a positive state of mind. “You can feel sad and have a pity party for yourself, but just like any real party, it must always come to an end,” Linda said. “Patients need to be their own advocates and be a part of their healthcare team. They have to take control of their care.”

Linda hopes that by helping others through their journey she’ll be able to instill in them a sense of hope and support. “My motto has always been not to worry about tomorrow; I have to make the most of the time I am given.”

And because of Jacquie’s selflessness, Linda has more time to make a difference than she would have had.

"I know it sounds cliché, but there are no words for what Jacquie has done for me. How do you thank someone who has given you the gift of life?" said Linda.

Photos printed with permission.

Are you or is someone you know interested in becoming a donor?

The first successful living donor transplant took place in 1964 in Boston, Mass. Today there are more than 50,000 living donors who have successfully donated their kidneys to people facing kidney failure. In order to complete a transplant, the donor must be compatible on a variety of levels with the recipient, and even with willing family members and friends, a good match can be difficult to find.

The National Kidney Registry is a nonprofit organization that was founded to facilitate kidney exchanges. A kidney exchange is when a donor cannot give a kidney to a loved one, so the donor exchange matches them with a patient who can receive it. In exchange, the donor’s love one is able to receive a transplant from someone else. Using an algorithm to determine maximum compatibility, the organization works to find the best possible matches, allowing many recipients who are hard to match to find a donor. The largest kidney exchange ever recorded included more than 60 people, allowing 30 people facing kidney failure to live without dialysis.

If you'd like to join the ranks as a possible donor, or would like to join the list as a recipient, visit the National Kidney Registry to learn more.

Brought to You By Baxter Baxter