‘It’s Just a Kidney:’ Walser Employee Readies for Life-Changing Organ Donation
In just over two weeks, Walser Honda ICO Buyer Karen Rebers is undergoing a life-changing surgery—she’s donating a kidney.
Rebers, 56, isn’t making the donation to a family member she loves or even a friend she’s known for years. In truth, her donation will support two people in need of life-saving organs—one a stranger, the other a little boy named Gabe.
“I call him my little buddy,” Rebers said with a smile.
Reber’s connection to Gabe’s family started eight years ago and long before Gabe was born. Rebers recalled the day in 2013 when she took her daughter to her high school orientation. It was there that she met her daughter’s classmate, Avery, who would eventually become Gabe’s mom. Social media kept the classmates connected over the years, and it was an Instagram post this year that revealed Gabe’s plight—the two-year-old boy needed a new kidney.
After hearing the news, Rebers didn’t hesitate, saying, “He has type O blood. I’m an O-. How about I donate mine?”
That simple question started Rebers down an unexpected path to help a family she hardly knew; it also opened her eyes to the complicated world of organ donation, one filled with hope, incredible gratitude, frustration, and so much waiting.
Rebers explained that kidney donation comes down to two things—whether the organ donation is coming from a living donor or a deceased donor.
All those in need of a kidney donation are placed on a deceased donor list, waiting for the day when a match will be made between them and a deceased donor. Matching kidneys for organ donation is a complicated process and the need is immense; according to the National Kidney Foundation, approximately 100,000 people are awaiting a kidney transplant match at any given time.
While live donor transplantation is considered the healthiest (and often fastest) option, a patient can’t receive a living donor kidney without a donation made on their behalf.
“The need for living donors is absolutely crazy. I was floored,” Rebers said.
For Gabe, a toddler on the verge of beginning dialysis, his living donor would be Rebers.
With her mind made up, Rebers began an extensive evaluation process at Mayo Clinic this year. Rebers underwent days of tests including an MRI, a urinalysis, a CAT scan on her kidneys, and a two-hour evaluation with a psychologist. She even watched a recorded kidney surgery.
“It’s a commitment. They are going through so much to pair you with somebody. They want to make sure you know every angle,” she said.
While she had been mostly private about her donation journey, she started a blog to document the experience. The blog is called It’s Just A Kidney. She realized that by sharing her experience, she might encourage someone else to donate, too.
“Once I realized how much my kidneys are needed, I had to share my journey,” she said. “I put it out there with no expectations, but people are interested. I am your everyday, average person and I’ll give a kidney. If I could get one person to donate, I would consider it a win.”
Rebers recently posted to her blog, It’s Just a Kidney, about the difficult waiting game potential kidney recipients must play. Health care professionals say Craigs List and Facebook ads like this are often a person’s best chance at getting a living kidney donor
As Rebers awaited her donation day, an unexpected but amazing thing happened; In September, Gabe was accepted for a deceased donor kidney. Without delay, Gabe successfully received his new kidney last month. The news could have let Rebers off the hook for her donation. She had a choice to make. Again, without hesitation, Rebers chose to give.
“You can’t help an entire nation, but I think we all have a responsibility to help however we can,” she said.
Instead of donating to Gabe, Rebers was matched to a new recipient, also desperately in need of that vital organ. And the gift will still help Gabe.
“[Gabe’s] deceased kidney only lasts about eight to 10 years. My living donation now will qualify him for a living kidney donation down the line.”
When he needs it, Gabe will be at that top of the National Kidney Registry (NKR) thanks to Rebers. Her donation also puts herself at the top of the NKR should she herself ever need a kidney either.
Rebers does not consider herself a hero—rather, that she is just a person who has something to give.
“If I saw him drowning, I’d jump in and save him. Anybody can do this,” she said. “We all do great things. It’s not as unattainable as you may think.”
Rebers will continue to blog her journey. Anyone interested in learning more can visit www.itsjustakidney.com.