A kidney unites them: Facebook connects Upstate nurse with woman needing a kidney transplant

Transplant recipient Victoria Fitzgerald (left) with her kidney donor, Upstate nurse Jody Adams. (PHOTO BY WILLIAM MUELLER)

BY AMBER SMITH

As Jody Adams scrolled through Facebook in January, one post stuck with her. It was written from the point of view of a baby boy named Carter, seeking someone to donate a kidney to his ailing mother.

A nurse for 12 years and the mother of six children, Adams says the idea of donating one of her healthy kidneys never crossed her mind – until she read that post. She didn’t want to imagine a little boy growing up without a mother, especially if she could help. And it didn’t matter to her that she did not know the family.

Fitzgerald (left) gives Adams a hug. (PHOTO BY KATE RUTHERFORD)

Rereading the post, she got the feeling that her kidney would be a match for the young mother. Adams, who commutes from a small rural town in Steuben County to work as a nurse at Upstate University Hospital, called the transplant program to begin the process of becoming a living donor.

The young mother, Victoria Fitzpatrick was a stranger to Adams. “Yes, she’s a stranger,” Adams would explain to friends who questioned whether she should donate, “but this is somebody’s daughter, somebody’s mother.”

Adams, 40, has a daughter named Victoria. The girl’s fifth birthday is the day Adams received the call from the transplant center saying she was a match for Fitzpatrick, 30, of LaFayette.

“Altruistic donation is one of the most worthy causes an individual can be involved in,” says Rainer Gruessner, MD, chief of transplant services at Upstate. “It really is a gift of life.”

The Facebook post that inspired Adams to donate her kidney to a mother who was a stranger.

Fitzpatrick’s health status has been challenging since she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 10. Two years ago she developed end-stage renal disease and went on dialysis. Then last summer, as she was being evaluated to join the kidney transplant waiting list, she discovered she was pregnant.

Her pregnancy was high risk, requiring dialysis for six hours a day, six days a week. Carter was born Nov. 4, eight weeks premature and weighing just 3 pounds, 14 ounces. Three days after the delivery, Fitzpatrick lost her vision to diabetic retinopathy. Surgery has since restored her sight. And, she’s become engaged to Carter’s father, Daniel Bequer.

Her mother, Janet Burton, crafted the Facebook post seeking a kidney in January, using a picture of Fitzpatrick holding Carter. “Hi! My name is Carter. This is my mommy, Victoria, holding me. She’s pretty and smells nice. She doesn’t feel so good though,” it said. “Dad says she needs a new kid knee because hers are broken, and we need someone to give her a new one.”

Transplant surgeon Vaughn Whittaker, MD, says more than 50 phone calls came into the transplant center in the days after that Facebook post from people interested in donating. Six people were qualified to donate, and two have set dates for their altruistic kidney donations. Which means two Central New Yorkers will come off the transplant waiting list.

Staff at Upstate perform an average two kidney transplants every week, with the majority of kidneys coming from deceased donors. Currently, living donation is the exception. Gruessner intends to build a program where living donation becomes the rule.

When Gruessner completed the transplant from Adams to Fitzpatrick in May, he came to the waiting room to find their families.

“What your daughter, Jody, is doing,” he began, “she really is a hero. If we had more people like her, more people would not be on dialysis.”

In a news conference a few days later, the women spoke to reporters together, taking turns holding Carter. Adams said her recovery had been easier than when she had her appendix removed. She said she felt like an older sister to Fitzpatrick and that she was grateful Carter would have his mom.

“I’ll be thinking about her every Mother’s Day.”

Would you donate?

To be considered as a donor of a healthy kidney, a person must be:

* willing to donate.

* older than 18 years old.

* within normal weight range.

* in excellent health with no current diseases. High blood pressure, diabetes, kidney stones and cancer usually prevent donation.

* able to pass a medical evaluation.

For more information about organ transplants at Upstate,  click here or call 315-464-5413.

magazine-fall16cvrHLOA-4C-VERT-REVThis article appears in the fall 2016 issue of Upstate Health magazine. Click here for a radio interview/podcast version of this story,  here for an interview on the process of donating organs and here for an interview with Whittaker on the need for living kidney donations. More interviews can be found at health linkonair.org and entering “transplant” in the search field.  

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