Attorney donates a kidney to colleague’s suffering daughter

first_img January 1, 2004 Jan Pudlow Associate Editor Regular News Attorney donates a kidney to colleague’s suffering daughter Attorney donates a kidney to colleague’s suffering daughter Associate Editor Hooked up to hemodialysis at the hospital for four hours three times a week. Enduring the prick of needles the size of 16-gauge nails. Sapped of energy. Carrying only 86 pounds on her 5-foot-3-inch frame. Unable to eat many foods, and forcing down nourishment that tasted tinged with aluminum. Since 2001, that was the painful routine for Stefanie Reed, now 20. Born with medical problems, the kidney her father had given her when she was only 18 months old wore out after 17 years. She was on the national list for another kidney, waiting, waiting, waiting.“I was about to start panicking,” Stefanie Reed said. “I was put on an extended list, and I was willing to take anything.” Bouncing into her life like an unexpected miracle was Nancy Lugo, a lawyer for Bay Area Legal Services in Tampa. Lugo worked with both Stefanie’s mom, Judy Reed, and Stefanie’s grandfather, Mel Miller.For quite some time, Lugo had heard how badly Reed’s daughter needed a kidney. “One day Nancy asked what blood type Stefanie’s was,” Judy Reed recalled. As it turned out, Nancy was also the rare blood type B positive.When Lugo said she would be willing to donate her kidney to give a young woman a new lease on life, Judy Reed said, “I was shocked. My heart dropped to my feet. That is not something you can ask somebody for. It’s not like you can go up to a friend and say, ‘Can I have an organ?’ What are the odds of two people matching the same rare blood type B positive and then be willing to donate an organ to someone you don’t know?”But Lugo volunteered to give the gift that keeps on giving.“When I found out that Stef and I both had the same blood type, it was like, ‘Tag, you’re it!’ I knew that I needed to take the next step and begin the screening process to determine whether I could be a donor,” Lugo said. “Of course, I first needed to discuss the whole matter with my husband, who has always been supportive of the major life choices that I have made.”Lugo and her husband, Bill Navas, a lawyer at the attorney general’s office in Tampa, were already attuned to the wondrous gift of organ donations. A close family friend’s teenage daughter battled leukemia with a bone marrow transplant. Another friend of her husband with cancer was the recipient of a liver transplant. And Lugo’s husband regularly donates blood platelets to one of his colleague’s young child with cancer.But for a 44-year-old mother of two young boys, 8 and 10, to give up a kidney? That took a lot of deep contemplation and conversation, Lugo said. Her lawyer instincts kicked in and she got on the Internet and did a lot of research about the risks. She asked a lot of questions of the surgeons. She talked frankly to her sons about wanting to help a young lady who desperately needed a kidney.The Reeds sat down with Lugo’s family before the November 22 transplant surgeries, so they could meet each other and the boys could see the real person who would be helped by their mother.“Her husband was leery,” Judy Reed said. “Nancy told him that God told her to do this. And then he said, ‘I don’t argue with the Big Man.’”Once the decision was made to go forward, Lugo had to undergo a complete physical to make sure she was healthy enough to give up her second backup kidney, as well as psychological testing. The team of doctors had to choose her, as well.When Lugo passed each hurdle of the lengthy screening process to make sure she was a good donor, Lugo kept praying: “OK, God. You have to show me.”She got two very strong signs she was doing the right thing, Lugo recounted.In September, when she suffered a herniated disc in her back, she was having second thoughts about going through with the kidney donation. Sitting in her orthopedist’s waiting room, she picked up a magazine and there was an article about kidney donation staring back at her.The second sign from above came when Legal Services Corp. in Washington, D.C., sent an auditor to Bay Area Legal Services for the routine bookkeeping check-up. The auditor happened to have donated a kidney to his son six years ago and encouraged Lugo to go forward with her plan.Even when her mind was made up, more testing had to be done to make sure the time was right for the transplant.Once a week, blood had to be drawn from Lugo and Stefanie Reed to check antibodies against each other. Stefanie had to have drug treatments to adjust down her antibodies, elevated from having had a previous transplant and a virus.It was all done through a cutting-edge program called LifeLink, and Stefanie said she is very grateful to Dr. John Leone, whose team volunteered to come in on Saturday Nov. 22 to perform the transplant at Tampa General Hospital. “Nancy is my angel, and I thank her for giving me back my life,” Stefanie Reed said. “I love her. I love her whole family. I told her she has a sitter for life. I will take care of her boys any time she wants.”The transplant surgery is actually tougher on the donor than the recipient. While Stefanie was gleefully able to shop at the mall within a week of the surgery, even though she had to wear a surgical mask to guard against infections, Lugo will have a six-to-eight-week recovery period.On December 10, Lugo had just returned from the doctor’s office and learned some spots where nerves were severed likely will remain numb. But she is taking that in stride, a small price to pay for a return so great.“I rest a lot. I feel weak,” Lugo said, but it’s nothing compared to the pain she felt from her back problems.She knew her gift of a kidney was worth it when her husband wheeled her down to Stefanie’s hospital room for the first visit. Even though Stefanie was hooked up to machines, Lugo said, she saw the healthy glow of new pink in her cheeks. Sitting on her bedside table was a carton of strawberry milk — something that was forbidden to drink while on dialysis.“When I saw her, I knew it was worth it,” Lugo said. “It’s an inconvenience for about a month. Some people say I saved her life. I don’t think so. The way I look at it is that she was hooked on a dialysis machine, and what kind of life is that? I look at it as helping improve the quality of her life.”And it certainly has already.Each day, Stefanie says, she feels stronger, now up to 102 pounds.“I can think clearer. I can concentrate now. I have all this energy,” Stefanie said, though she is not as peppy as the average 20-year-old, as she is still battling Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.She knows how blessed she is, as she thinks of the children she met at the hospital’s pediatric unit still waiting for their angel to arrive.“Make sure people reading your story know to tell your family if you want to donate your organs,” Stefanie said. “One person can donate 61 things. I want to get the word out there, because so many kids need transplants — little kids, too.”Even the Reeds’ friends in England have sent cards, and Lugo has run out of space for all the flowers she has received.“This has been Thanksgiving and Christmas all in one!” Judy Reed exclaimed. “I told Nancy I could rattle on words for years, and it wouldn’t cover it. We just hug her and tell her we love her.”last_img read more