Monday, Nov. 11, 2019
The big day was finally here. Danielle Morris was going to marry the love of her life.
Months of planning were coming together. The flowers were on display, the guests arriving and the wedding party assembled.
This day would have been challenging for Morris to visualize just a year ago when she was suffering from end stage renal disease.
“It was really difficult to dream when I was sick,” she said.
The Chesterfield County resident’s journey began with a trip to the hospital at age 22 that brought her kidney disease to light. Her illness forced her to move back in with her mother. She spent three years on dialysis, all the while getting sicker on the transplant waiting list.
But that was all behind her as she stood in front of her family and friends at St. Joseph’s Villa, holding her soon-to-be husband’s hands. She was happy, healthy and getting married.
A year earlier, Morris had received a new kidney from a donor, Hannah Perry, and now Perry was standing by Morris’ side as a member of her wedding party. The ceremony and reception were a celebration for all. It was a special day for the bride, who shares an uncommon bond with a bridesmaid she had met just months before.
“She felt like part of the family. Everyone loved her, and she just fit in,” Morris said.
An altruistic donor
Morris met Perry in April with hugs and tears. Perry, of Henrico County, is a special education teacher who, for years, dreamed of becoming a living organ donor to someone in need. She wanted to be an altruistic donor, meaning she didn’t know whose life would be changed by her selfless gift. Perry underwent an evaluation by the multidisciplinary team at the VCU Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center. The team also worked to find a suitable recipient. And in August 2018, a surgeon-controlled robot removed Perry’s left kidney, which was then transplanted into Morris.
“It’s just crazy to know that I gave something away that I didn’t need and it changed her life so greatly,” Perry said. “It feels like I’ve known her for so much longer.”
The two met at a patient recognition event organized by Hume-Lee for transplant recipients and living donors who had their surgeries in 2018. If the recipient initiates or agrees to meet an altruistic living donor — and the donor also agrees — transplant centers may facilitate such meetings. For altruistic donation, transplant centers are not permitted to share information about either donor or recipient until both consent, which commonly occurs months after surgery.
“When we first met, I started crying instantly,” Morris said.
“God has just an amazing plan.”
When we first met, I started crying instantly. God has just an amazing plan.
At the event, the two exchanged phone numbers and quickly became friends, communicating regularly and even meeting to hang out and have dinner. Morris describes Perry as “not just kidney cool, but cool.” Just a week after they met, Morris was engaged. And a few weeks after that, she asked Perry to be in her wedding party.
“I just thought, who else would I want in it?” Morris said.
Having Perry at the wedding for support, and to celebrate with Morris’ family, made a great day even better.
“This is really heartwarming and tells you how live donation can bring people together,” said Layla Kamal, M.D., transplant nephrologist at the Hume-Lee Transplant Center. “Hannah performed a great act of heroism by donating to Danielle.”
Kamal serves as Hume-Lee’s first living donor medical director, a position that underscores the center’s commitment to living donor kidney transplantation. In this role, Kamal helps share the importance of living donation while overseeing stringent safety protocols for all living kidney donors.
Living donation has a number of advantages, such as getting a patient transplanted faster. The average wait time for a kidney on the transplant waiting list is four to five years, Kamal said. Other living donor advantages include kidney quality and the younger age of the donor.
Hume-Lee also offers the added benefit of robotic-assisted surgery for donors and recipients. The surgeon relies on the surgical system’s robotic arms to complete the operation, which presents a less-invasive option with a smaller incision site, less pain and speedier recovery time. Kidney transplant recipients and living donors are often able to go home in as little as two days following their surgeries.
For living donors, many enjoy the feeling of helping another, Kamal said.
“We often have donors who really enjoyed giving a lifesaving gift to another so much that they say they’d go through the process again,” Kamal said. “Altruistic donors are definitely unique people. They are everyday heroes who do something that is completely selfless for someone they don’t know to improve their lives.”
And one particular donor-turned bridesmaid is no exception.
“I feel like it has impacted my life as much as it has impacted hers,” Perry said. “The whole experience, I would do it all over again if I could.”
“We do have this connection, and it’s just different,” Morris said.
“We’re in each other’s lives forever.”
Learn more about living organ donation at https://www.vcuhealth.org/hume-lee-transplant-center/living-donation/living-donation.
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