Living kidney donors needed, advocates say

Sheila Drew, a nurse at Lifespan, donated a kidney to Carol Ryan of Coventry. (WJAR)

The wait for a kidney in New England from a deceased donor is four to five years, and the expected lifespan is almost half that of a kidney from a living donor.

That’s why a nurse from Lifespan is hoping to raise awareness, hoping to get a retired Providence firefighter a living donor soon.

"It's been difficult for him because he's the type of guy who's always a go, go, go person,” said Nancy Thibault of her husband of 11 years, Raymond.

Raymond said he found out he had an inherited form of kidney disease, polycystic kidney disease, when he was in his 20s. His mother had it too.

"I just kind of put it off. It didn't really bother me until two years ago," he said.

That's when his health started going downhill.

"A lot of fatigue, I was getting tired, nauseous," he recalled.

Raymond’s kidneys were failing and for more than a year now, he has been on dialysis three days a week, every week, for about four hours a day.

His 10-year-old son, Ray, explained how dialysis works: "It's like a machine that the blood goes through and filters his blood because his kidney doesn't work."

About six months ago while talking about the importance of living kidney donations, the Thibaults met Sheila Drew, a nurse at Lifespan. Five years earlier, she had donated a kidney to a Coventry woman.

“ I said, 'Well, I work at a hospital. We have a transplant center. Somebody must need my kidney,'" she recalled.

That was after she tried to donate one of her kidneys to a little Massachusetts girl in need but a better match was found. Drew then offered to donate to someone in need in Rhode Island. That person turned out to be Carol Ryan of Coventry in August 2012. They met in the hospital just days after the operation.

"And the two of us just looked at each other and there was a flood of tears,” said Drew. “I didn't know the woman from anywhere but I knew we're sharing body parts."

Since that time, Drew and Ryan have been good friends. And Drew has become a zealot about others becoming living donors.

"Sheila's an amazing person and actually it inspired us there's actually people out there that are willing to donate and it's sort of given us a little bit of hope," said Nancy Thibault.

So, the Thibault family hopes and Drew continues to preach.

"Wherever I can I tell my story," said Drew.

To qualify as a living donor, you must be at least 18 years old and in excellent health. Recovery can last up to three months. Drew said she bounced back much sooner than that. She has lunch often with the women she now refers to affectionately as "Kidney Carol."

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