Donor program creates a chain of lives being touched

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By Tom Wilmoth

Amanda Key’s story begins in 1998, when she was 19 years old.

    By all accounts she was a typical Bedford teenager, working and enjoying friends. Up to that point in her life she had rarely been sick.
    But that quickly changed. She began having migraines, suffering fatigue and passed out. Eventually Amanda would be diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease called Good Pasteur’s. She had to go on dialysis and needed a new kidney.
    A year after first getting sick, she had a transplant, receiving a kidney from her Mom, Robbie Key.  But within a year, her body had begun rejecting that kidney.
    By 2006, Amanda was back in the hospital, faced with the decision of declining treatment or going back on dialysis. She eventually chose the latter, but it hadn’t been an easy decision.
    And the prospects of finding a new kidney weren’t optimistic.
    But all hope wasn’t lost.
    Her Mom’s boss, Lisa Stanzione, stepped in to help. She knew the difficulty Amanda  had gone through;  and she knew the pain Robbie had faced as she walked each step of the way with her daughter.
     Stanzione made a decision to help; she would serve as a living donor for Amanda.
    Though tests showed that Stanzione could not be an actual donor for Amanda, there was another possibility. If they could find a matching donor for Amanda through the National Kidney Registry,  Stanzione could serve as a donor for a stranger through a program called Paired Exchange.
    “I was amazed she decided to donate,” Amanda said of Stanzione.
    Robbie works with Stanzione at LifeNet Health, an organ donation organization.
    In this program, living donors are matched together to allow for multiple donations to be made amongst a series of recipients. In Amanda’s case, it was a three-way connection.  Stanzione’s kidney would go to a recipient in California, that recipient’s donor would give a kidney to a woman from Virginia and that woman’s son would serve as the kidney donor for Amanda.
    In essence, it was a three-way trade. In reality, it saved three lives.
    It has been seven months since the transplant.
    “I’m doing really good,” Amanda said last week.
    Her transplant was performed at Henrico Doctor’s Hospital, through the Virginia Transplant Center. They actually met the man who donated his kidney to her, though they didn’t know it at the time.
    Her donor was big, tall and in good shape. He is the manager of a distillery. “I’m just a farm girl,” Amanda said.
    On the same day of Amanda’s chain, another chain involving 10 donors and recipients was also performed. That’s the beauty of the Paired Kidney Exchange program.
    The donors are matched to recipients through DNA.
    Amanda’s donor was tested three separate times to make sure he matched up with her. Once the transplant was complete, Amanda showed immediate improvement.
     Prior to the transplant, Amanda had been getting very sick. Between July 2010 and July 2011 she had to go to the emergency room 26 times and saw her primary care physician 13 times. Six times she was admitted into the hospital.
    “The staff at Bedford Memorial emergency room were the best,” Robbie stated. “Every time Amanda went to the ER, which was a lot in the last 6 years, they always treated her with respect and compassion. Not once did we ever feel that they were tired of her and felt she was in the way.”
    Robbie said the staff there always worked to help her and made her feel as if there were no other patients that mattered, but her.
    “This was felt from the doctors, nurses and other hospital staff,” she said. “I truly believe if she was in any other town other than Bedford, she would have died a long time ago. The emergency room staff helped get Amanda where she is just as much as the transplant center did.”
    Amanda and Robbie hope that their story will help bring attention to this month’s designation as National Donate Life Month.
    “It takes the right person to sign up on the list,” Amanda said. The more who sign up, the more likelihood that “there’s somebody out there who will match you.”
    Robbie is glad to “have the old Amanda back.”
    Amanda said there are a tremendous amount of people needing transplants today—more than 90,000 waiting for kidneys. She said people need to educate themselves on the subject or of becoming a donor.
    “Eighteen people die every day in the United States because they don’t get an organ (transplant),” Robbie said.