(The following Town and Gown column originally ran in the December 24, 2008 edition of the Jacksonville News)
Town and Gown:
JSU Employee Gives Gift of Life
By Dr. William A. Meehan
Selflessly giving anything you can to help anyone you can-- this is a simple theme resounding in the life of Connie Thompson, an associate director at Jacksonville State University Gadsden. This idea is not a creed, written down or hanging framed on a wall, but a deed Thompson lives out every day.
One late summer Sunday morning, while sitting in her country church in Cleburne County, Thompson heard a concerned son ask a small crowd to remember his father, who at that time was in need of a kidney transplant. Wayne Skinner, the director of Dryden's Funeral Home in Heflin, Ala., had a genetic kidney condition called polycystic kidney disease.
Skinner's brother and sister, who share this disease, have already received kidney transplants and Skinner's son has been diagnosed with the same disease. In the testing process to become a donor, Skinner's wife discovered only one of her kidneys is functioning.
Thompson says she never considered being a living organ donor until this particular day after hearing Skinner's story. According to Transplant Living, a project of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) with a mission to unite organ availability and transplantation, living organ donation dates back to 1954, when a kidney from one twin was successfully transplanted into his identical brother. Today, one in four living donors is not biologically related to the recipient. "Once I made the decision to be tested," says Thompson, "I had a wonderful sense of peace about the whole decision."
After contacting the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), Thompson spent several months passing test after test. She and Skinner were both assigned a care coordinator by the transplant team at UAB to provide each of them with personal care and attention. Thompson says the community is fortunate to have an outstanding medical facility nearby with doctors who have been performing transplants for more than 50 years.
"I didn't really know Mr. Skinner all that well prior to the start of this process," says Thompson. The first time these two met, Thompson says no words were exchanged, just tears. "It's hard to understand what it means to someone when there seems to be no hope and then all of a sudden, there is hope," Thompson explains. "Naturally we are now very close and I consider myself part of their family! I told him that we expected to be invited to all the family reunions! We stop by to visit [the Skinners] regularly to check on [Wayne's] progress and we watched the SEC championship game together."
According to Transplant Living, a kidney is the most frequently donated organ among living donors. The design of the human body allows for one kidney to be able to do the work of two. Thompson was told her remaining right kidney will actually increase in size to accommodate the loss of her left one.
After a successful surgery last month, Thompson wants people to know that the "idea of living transplants isn't as scary as it sounds. And the good that comes from it can't possibly be measured."
Thompson will have to be checked by her doctor yearly and monitor her blood pressure, but she will have no restrictions after recovery. And at 51 she was told by her doctor she should be the poster child for kidney donors because she was doing much better than a guy half her age who donated his kidney.
Prior to the surgery, Thompson walked at the Jacksonville Community Center every morning with her friend and colleague, Judy Anderson, a secretary in the Mathematical, Computing and Information Sciences department at JSU. "Five weeks after the surgery I'm back walking every morning with Judy," says Thompson. "I'm not as fast as I used to be but my care coordinator has promised me that by January seventh, two months after the surgery, that I will feel just like I did two days before the surgery."
There are currently more than 100,000 candidates waiting for an organ transplant in the United States and this list, monitored by UNOS, grows daily. Thompson says she does not want any credit for doing what she knew had to be done. If there is any attention gained, Thompson hopes to act as an advocate for living transplants and bring awareness to this cause-- she told Skinner they were a "match made in heaven."
For more information about living organ donation, visit www.unos.org.
Erin Chupp, a graduate assistant in the Office of Marketing and Communications, contributed to this article.