Gift of a lifetime

Sacred Heart School principal donates a kidney to her niece


by Jessica Langdon
jessica@theleaven.org

OTTAWA — When Sacred Heart School principal Diane Chapman welcomed students here to the new school year, a part of her was somewhere else.

At Pittsburg State University, to be precise, where her transplanted kidney was hard at work inside her niece, Kimberly Thompson, who was starting nursing school there.

In side-by-side operating rooms in June, Chapman gave 20-year-old Kimberly — who is also her goddaughter — a new lease on life.

“I was born with kidney failure,” said the young nursing student, who grew up a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Emporia. But few people knew of the fatigue and limitations that accompanied her condition.

“She never complained,” said Chapman, “never told people she had kidney failure, never used it as a crutch or excuse, which I think speaks volumes of her character and integrity.”

And when the call came to help her, Chapman didn’t hesitate.

“We always knew there was a transplant in her future,” said Marcia Thompson, Kimberly’s mother and Chapman’s sister.

But Thompson’s blood type matched her daughter’s. And from day one, they planned for her to be the donor.

But God had another plan.

‘I didn’t even have to ask’

Kimberly had a tough summer in 2010, and things didn’t improve that fall. Her kidneys just weren’t doing their job in filtering out toxins.

“I don’t think she even knew how bad she felt,” said Thompson.

She was exhausted but couldn’t sleep. Concentrating was nearly impossible, but the college student kept her grades up.

She started dialysis in February. It perked her up immensely, but it broke Chapman’s heart to see her vibrant niece hooked up to a machine for hours at a time.

A mother-daughter transplant was planned for late May. That way, Kimberly could recover over the summer and start her nursing program in the fall.

The surgery wasn’t to be, though.

“I was diagnosed with kidney stones,” said Thompson. “They ruled me out.”

They received the devastating news on April Fools’ Day, of all days. And it left Thompson and her husband, Terry, struggling with how to approach the only option remaining to them.

How do you ask someone for a kidney for your daughter?

Chapman had offered to be tested if the need ever arose.

“People say that,” said Thompson, “but I guess she meant it.”

Because when she made the toughest call of her life, “I didn’t even have to ask,” Thompson said. “She volunteered.”

“When she called, my heart was just breaking for her,” said Chapman. “I wanted to reach through the phone and hug her.”

Thompson suggested her sister take the weekend and talk it over with her husband, Perry, and grown children, Ben and Emily.

But Chapman didn’t need to.

“There was never a question,” she said.

But she won’t take any credit for her courage.

“That’s the Holy Spirit,” she said simply. “I’m not real brave.”

Testing proved that Perry and Kimberly’s brother, Brandon, are also potential matches, but the doctors wanted to wait on him, in case Kimberly needs another transplant someday.

“It’s a very good feeling,” said Kimberly, “[knowing] you have family that’s willing to give you that big of a gift.”

Thompson puts it another way.

“God’s fingerprints are just all over you,” she said.

Good news

Chapman’s “yes” was just the beginning. Principal of Sacred Heart since 2003, she was already busy before adding one medical test after another into the last few jampacked weeks of school.

But she passed each hurdle, and finally learned that her kidney would be compatible.

The green light came on June 7. Surgery was scheduled for June 20. Chapman called her niece.

“Hey, Kimberly, this is Aunt Diane,” said Chapman. “I think we need a girls’ day out on June 20.”

“I think I started crying,” said Kimberly.

Prayers and preparations

Preparing for the day of the surgery hit Thompson even harder than the three weeks Kimberly spent in the hospital as a newborn.

“She looked at me and said, ‘Mom, of course — you know me now,’” said Thompson. “And I would have walked through fire 20 years ago.”

Kimberly is an amazing young woman and has endured so much, she said.

But she’s never asked for pity, said Chapman. She is witty, mature and fun.

As they neared the date for the transplant, family, friends and even complete strangers began praying for Kimberly, Chapman and their doctors. Thompson knows of four denominations in Emporia alone that prayed.

At St. Joseph Parish in Waverly, where Chapman’s and Thompson’s parents are members, friends organized a prayer chain.

Chapman worked with a transplant team at Saint Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, Mo.; the surgeries were to be performed at Children’s Mercy Hospital, a place Kimberly knows well.

The staff and 19 years of “love, care and kindness” from the Kidney Center there have been a godsend, said Thompson. She credits Dr. Bradley Warady with the good health Kimberly maintained despite her struggles.

Chapman and Kimberly settled in the hospital the day before their surgeries. Even just hours out, any little problem could jeopardize the entire plan.

But they made it.

The family has no doubt that it was due to the power of prayer.

‘Live a good, happy life’

Their surgeries were on a Monday. That Tuesday, Chapman made her way to Kimberly’s ICU room.

Pictures show them together, smiling and laughing — even through a little pain.

Chapman had been told that the main effect she should feel afterward was fatigue, which would improve in a few weeks.

Ironically, they’d heard that donors sometimes have a harder time of recovery than the recipient — perhaps because the recipient feels good for the first time in a very long time, thanks to a fully functioning kidney.

Kimberly thinks her own health history has led her to a medical career.

She’s still deciding what kind of nursing she’ll do, but is excited to have started the program. Her mother hopes she’ll finally see how good life can be.

Her color is better, and her personality is shining through, said Thompson.

And Chapman now wears a silver bracelet from Kimberly that reads “Some people come into our lives, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never the same.”

“She’s amazing,” said Kimberly. “It is a very selfless gift that she gave. I don’t know how to thank her.”

“You have, dear,” Chapman assured her. “Live a good, happy life.”

Tens of thousands of people are waiting for kidneys and other organs.

This family knows every situation is different, but they urge others to think about donation.

“As a recipient’s mom, please, please consider being a donor,” Marcia Thompson said. “At least check it out.”

“Being the donor, I second that,” Diane Chapman said. “It’s been an incredible, amazing journey. When you think about maybe a month of recovery to heal up, to be able to change somebody’s life, their health, and their livelihood, it’s easy to give somebody a gift like that.”

Organ donations of all types are needed, according to Midwest Transplant Network:

• 1,000 people in Kansas and 2,000 in Missouri are waiting for lifesaving transplants.

• More than 103,000 are waiting for lifesaving transplants across the United States.

• In 2008, 7,984 deceased donors and 6,218 living donors resulted in 27,961 organ transplants.

The National Kidney Foundation’s website, www.kidney.org, offers information on becoming a living donor.

For information on organ donations in general, visit the website at: www.mwtn.org.

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