According to statistics found on donatelife.net: “115,000 men, women and children await lifesaving organ transplants. 82% of patients waiting are in need of kidney transplants. 683,000 transplants have taken place since 1988.” One of those transplants took place in the spring of last year. Suzanne Lever, assistant ethics counsel for the North Carolina State Bar donated a kidney to Jeff Rexford, a medical sales executive from Dallas Texas. Suzanne had been interested in being an organ donor for a while, but had no idea where to start. After putting the idea of being an organ donor on hold, a Facebook post reignited the fire and connected her to Jeff Rexford. We had a chance to talk to Suzanne about her experience and how it changed both their lives.
Q: Once you found out about Rexford’s need for a kidney, what were the next steps?
A: It was easier than I thought it would be. I went to LabCorp and had some blood drawn for two tests – to determine my blood type and for cross-matching with Rexford’s blood. The next step was to travel to Baylor Hospital in Dallas last December for a full day of testing, including a full physical exam to make sure my body was strong enough to handle the procedure.
Q: Tell us a little bit about the connection right here at home that you had to Jeff Rexford and how Facebook actually brought you two together.
A: On Facebook, I am friends with Frank Rexford of Chapel Hill, who I have done triathlons with and who is actually Jeff Rexford’s brother. I happened to see a post by Wenell Rexford (Jeff’s wife) on Frank’s timeline and it rekindled my curiosity about kidney donation. I had kind of shelved that idea, and wasn’t actively seeking to be a donor, but when I saw that Facebook post I thought, ‘Well, I’ll just go get tested,’ and I did.
Q: What was your family’s reaction to your decision to become an organ donor?
A: My family was extremely supportive about my decision. Everyone was very positive. I did get a little bit of teasing because my family has a habit of offering items we no longer need (like older cars and furniture) to other members of the family before we get rid of them. My sister said I really should have offered her the kidney before I decided to donate it to Jeff!
When I actually had the surgery I had to stay in Dallas a week waiting for my post-operative exam. My husband Rick stayed the entire time, and my daughter Madison traveled from Atlanta to spend family time there. My husband and daughter ran in the Rock and Roll Half Marathon while we were there. They wouldn’t let me do the race.
I had a great deal of support from the State Bar as well.
Q: Describe your initial meeting with Mr. Rexford.
A: We met in person for the first time when we checked into the hospital for our surgeries. It was emotional for the both of us. He thanked me and kept saying “thank you doesn’t seem to be enough.” It was confirmation to me that I was doing the right thing.
Q: What are your thoughts about the process of donating an organ, now that you have gone through the process?
A: I was really amazed at how easy the recovery process was. I took a total of two weeks off work and then went back full time.
I have to say that donating a kidney has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. I wish I could do it again. If I could grow another kidney and give it away, I would do it.
Q: How is Mr. Rexford doing since the procedure?
A: He’s doing well. In less than a week following surgery, his creatinine levels, which had been at 7.5 had dropped back to a normal range of around .1. Measuring creatinine is a way of determining kidney function. He is back at work full time and feels normal and energetic. He has begun mountain biking again after a nine year hiatus because of the kidney disease.
We are now connected as family. He texts me on every monthly anniversary of the surgery.
Q: Is there anything you learned through this journey that you take with you in your professional life?
A: Never underestimate your ability to make a difference in someone’s life.
This article first appeared in our Put Into Practice August 2018 newsletter