Contact: Rebecca Green
“I’m a match,” Jen Tompkins, RN, whispered with a smile into the ear of her coworker, Terri Miller. “I’m a match!”
Friends for over 18 years, and now coworkers at the CGH Wound Healing Center, the news brought Terri to tears as she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Terri, who was diagnosed in early 2016 with lupus - an autoimmune disease that occurs when your body's immune system attacks your own tissues and organs - had been added to the Illinois Kidney Transplant List when it was discovered that she had stage 5 kidney disease.
“I came into the hospital with pneumonia, was sent to Rockford for additional care, and ended up starting dialysis at that same visit,” Terri said. “Dialysis is a way of cleaning your blood when your kidneys can no longer do the job. It gets rid of your body's wastes, extra salt and water, and helps to control your blood pressure. They removed 86 pounds of fluid from my body while I was there. From that point on, I started peritoneal dialysis.”
After Terri was accepted to the transplant list, Terri and Jen had numerous conversations about kidney donation. Jen was working full time, still nursing her youngest child, and going to school but offered to be tested once she was no longer nursing. In the spring of 2018, Jennifer decided it was time and convinced her husband, Justin, to be on board. She scheduled the testing appointment at UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin in late April. “It was an extremely long day,” Jen remembers. “It was a 3 hour drive there and then an 8 hour day full of testing and consultations that included a chest x-ray, EKG, 18 vials of blood, CT of the abdomen/pelvis, evaluations from psych, nutrition, pharmacy, surgery, and nephrology, and finally, meetings with social services and the transplant coordinator.”
She ended up being a match. Two months later, the two travelled to Madison to do the transplant, and this year, on July 25, they celebrate the one year anniversary of the donation.
“I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to do more than help Terri get her health back,” Jen said. “Her husband was my Sunday School teacher and is now my children’s teacher, we work together, we go to church together, and I helped take care of her parents. On top of that, my mom was a bone marrow donor to my aunt and a long-time blood donor, and my grandparents left a legacy of donating to others for us to live up to. I want to instill a giving spirit into my kids, and how am I going to do that if I don’t do it myself.”
The surgery wasn’t without some slight complications, as Jen had a duplicate left renal artery, a tiny third artery on the back of her kidney that was found during surgery, and extra lymph nodes. She also developed a 20% pneumothorax when the surgeons nicked her diaphragm while having trouble dissecting the top of the kidney. Additionally, they needed to do some reconstruction to Terri to accommodate the duplicate renal artery, a procedure that added four hours to the surgery time.
“I won’t lie,” Jen said. “The recuperation from surgery, even though it is done laparoscopically, is rough on the donor. I had a collapsed lung, a lot of gas pain from the CO2, you’re swollen for several weeks after surgery with fluid from a kidney that now has to play catch up, and you’re exhausted…but all in all, it is definitely worth it. Terri came back to work and her cheeks were pink…she doesn’t have to do dialysis (her last day was her birthday!)…she doesn’t have to carry supplies back and forth when she travels to see her family. She can get up and go…and do...and live! There are so many more things to worry about in life than whether I have one or two kidneys. You can go on with life with one kidney, but you can’t live with no kidneys.”
“There are no words for what Jen did for me,” Terri said. “And there are not enough thank yous to everyone that supported us through this journey. Jason Green and our CGH coworkers were amazingly patient and understanding, HR was extremely helpful with insurance questions, other managers were quick to send help when coverage was needed at the Wound Center, and we truly appreciated everyone’s thoughts and prayers.”
“There are over 100,000 people in Illinois in need of a kidney transplant,” Jen concluded. “Can you believe that we could all help take care of this? There wouldn’t be a waitlist if people were just a little bit more giving of themselves, and donation is easy…this was easy.”
For questions about kidney donation, please feel free to call Terri or Jen at the CGH Wound Center at 815-564-4002, visit the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois at https://www.nkfi.org/be-a-donor or visit https://www.uwhealth.org/transplant/living-organ-donation-at-uw-health/52345.