In Spring of 2008, Michelle and Tom Fulcher were enjoying being newlyweds when Michelle first decided to be tested to be a possible kidney donor. Her husband Tom had been dealing with CKD (Chronic Kidney Disease) for a lifetime. It was inherited and many of his siblings suffered with CKD as well.
After going through the test program involved in being a living donor, Michelle learned she wasn’t blood compatible with her husband. They decided to look into a procedure called paired donation. Kidney Paired Donation, or KPD, also known as a kidney exchange, gives that transplant candidate another option. In KPD, living donor kidneys are swapped with different recipients so each recipient receives a compatible transplant.
In late June 2008, Michelle got her chance to be a part of a KPD. The chain started with a couple of friends, one from California and one from Arizona. They weren’t a match, however the friends felt so strongly about living donation that they reached out to the Banner transplant center. The donor offered to give her kidney in exchange that her friend might be able to receive a kidney. They were not a match either. So the paired exchange began to build. In order to make this situation viable, the transplant center trying to find matches for multiple recipients that weren’t matched with their donor in what is sometimes called a domino transplant. When a donor/recipient of this group dropped out for health reasons, Michelle’s husband was next in line to complete the chain of transplants. She was able to give to a stranger, and her husband was able to receive from a stranger because they were part of a chain of altruistic living donors. The chain that they were involved in had 12 donors and 11 recipients. Their particular chain was the longest in Arizona history.
Since then, Michelle and Tom have done a lot of interviews for media, serve as mentors, and support legislation and advocacy on getting information out to people about living donor-ship. They help new kidney families with questions they might have to help make them more comfortable with the procedure. She advises, if you have questions and you can’t donate you can still be an advocate. If you have questions and you can donate, then you can save a life. There are new advancements happening all the time. Even right now there is immune suppression legislation in congress that you can help with. Making your opinions known to your state senator could help with making sure immunosuppression medication remains covered by Medicare and that living donors are taken care of after their life sustaining gift. Visit power2.save.org to find out more on advocacy.
If you are thinking, how do I start this living donation process because I want to save a life? The first thing you would do would be to contact a transplant team or a local nephrologist. Michelle advises to do your research. Questions like, will insurance cover this, or will FMLA cover time off as a donor which are very real items of concern and worth mentioning. Another question to ask is “What are the local hospitals involved in this procedure?” The research you do can help you form questions that you can then give to your nephrologist (hepatologist for live and pulmonologist for lung) a list of questions to discuss.
Every two years she goes back to have her kidney function monitored to that she can see she is still in good shape. She is continuously monitored as a living donor because it helps physicians understand how to best support living donors in the future.
Michelle’s favorite part is sharing. And of course getting to spend so many more years with her husband. She feels an obligation to share the amazing life they’ve had as a result of living donorship.
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