It's a match! West Michigan woman gets kidney from unlikely donor

The gift of life given from one coworker to another

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - According to the National Kidney Foundation, there are currently 121,678 people waiting for lifesaving organ transplants in the United States.

And 100,791 of these patients are waiting for one particular organ - a kidney. With 3,000 new patients added to the kidney waiting list each month, the chance to find the perfect match is far from easy.

A West Michigan woman found her match, not from the list, but rather from down the hall at her workplace.

Michele Parkes and Maureen Herendeen are both nurses at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, in Grand Rapids. 

For the past five years, the two women were just co-workers, and had no connection beyond that, but they became connected for life in March 2017.

"I'm very grateful and very blessed and am so glad to have her in my life," said Michele, who was diagnosed with Diabetes when she was a teenager. "I was told early in life that I needed to do all I could could keep my sugar under control."

Michele did that for several decades, but near the end of 2013, one of her kidneys started to fail. Her doctors told her that she would eventually be in need of a transplant, or Dialysis.

She was placed on the National Kidney Transplant List in 2014.

"While I was waiting for a kidney, I went on what I called a 'cardboard diet', which included low potassium, low phosphorus and low salt foods," said Michele. "That's what I had to do to survive."

Three years passed, and no match was found for Michele. Meantime, her kidney was functioning at only 13%. If it had dropped to 10% or less, she would have had to go on Dialysis, and likely would have been taken off the transplant list.

On a day when both Michele and Maureen were working last spring, Maureen overheard Michele talking about needing a kidney transplant. Maureen was intrigued and decided to ask about it.

"I went up to Michele and asked, 'what type of blood are you,'" Maureen said. "She said, 'I'm O Positive', and I said, 'well, I'm O Positive; should I get tested?'"

After undergoing a battery of tests, it was determined Maureen was a perfect match.

"To be able to be a match for Michele, and help save her life, is just spectacular," said Maureen.

"I was just shocked," said Michele, describing her immediate reaction after finding out Maureen was a match. "After three years of waiting, I couldn't believe it was true."

The two women decided to schedule the surgery for Monday, December 4.

"I feel like everything came together for this outcome and [donating a kidney to Michele] is what I'm supposed to do," said Maureen. 

"I got life again," said Michele. "It's my Christmas, Thanksgiving and my birthday gift the rest of my life.

"I'll never be able to repay Maureen."

Once she recovers from the surgery, Michele faces three months of close observation to make sure she doesn't reject the kidney. Maureen will miss a couple of weeks of work, but should return before the end of the year.

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