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Sharon Kallner and Sherri Kearns

Saving a Stranger's Life
by Donating a Kidney

Sherri Kearns
Retired nurse
Altruistic kidney donor
Sharon Kallner
Officer manager
Kidney recipient
October 2013

 

 

Sherri Kearns knew she wanted to do something special after she retired from her nursing career.

It wasn’t taking a trip to Europe, or learning how to paint or sculpt, or moving to Florida with other retirees. Sherri decided she wanted to give a piece of herself to others. Literally.

As a nurse at Jefferson Hospital for almost 20 years, the Pleasant Hills native saw firsthand the toll that kidney failure and dialysis takes on patients’ bodies, daily schedules and overall quality of life. So her something special was to become a living donor and donate one of her kidneys.

“All of my nursing career I saw people on dialysis, and it’s heartbreaking to watch people commit to that therapy three days a week and still not have great health or strength; they’re just getting by,” said the 63-year-old mother of two and grandmother of five. “I made a promise to God that if I were healthy when I retired, I would donate a kidney.”

Sherri retired in August 2013. A few weeks later, she was reading a weekly edition of Pittsburgh Catholic, where she saw an article about organ donation with a phone number for Allegheny Health Network Living Donor Program. She called immediately to schedule an appointment and begin testing.

“I kept this very quiet because I wanted to do this with great humility. This was between God and me. I didn’t tell my kids until a month before surgery, and my husband – after 44 years of marriage – knew better than to argue with me,” Sherri joked. “People thought I was crazy to do this, but it’s such an easy thing to do for someone, to save a life.”

Then in October, a week before surgery, Sherri inadvertently met her kidney recipient in the blood lab at Allegheny General Hospital. She heard another woman telling the blood technician that she was having a kidney transplant the following week.

“My ears perked up, and I knew it had to be the person that would receive my kidney,” Sherri excitedly explained. “I went and introduced myself and told her that I think I was giving her my kidney. The rest is history.”

Sharon Kallner, 56, was indeed the recipient. The married mother of two grown sons has polycystic kidney disease, a condition she genetically inherited. Her brother had a successful kidney transplant three years ago, and her sister is in the early stages of the disease.

Three days a week for two years, Sharon would leave her house in Sarver, Pa., at 5 a.m. to have dialysis. She would start so early in the morning so she could get to her job as an office manager of an area trucking company.

“It was just the fatigue that would get to me, but I knew I needed to plow through,” said Sharon, who had been on the transplant list for three and a half years before finding out that she was a match with an altruistic living donor, who ended up to be Sherri.

The transplant surgery last October went extremely well for both women. Sharon went home four days later and began working full time again in January. “I feel like I have a completely normal life now. It’s just unbelievable, really, and I got to see both of my sons get married in the last year.”

For Sherri, she describes the organ donation process as relatively painless, explaining how she was walking around an hour after the kidney donation when she went to visit Sharon in her room.

“I had some discomfort and occasional pain for about a week, but I got my staples removed 10 days after surgery and drove straight to Walmart,” Sherri said.

Six months after the transplant, the two had the opportunity to see each other again at a Donor Pinning Ceremony at Allegheny General. Sherri and Sharon laughed and talked at the annual lunch that celebrates living donors from the previous year.

“Sharon looks absolutely fabulous,” Sherri said we great joy.

Sharon responded by saying, “I’m going to Las Vegas thanks to you.” She went on to say, “I don’t think people realize what people do for other people. Sherri gave me my life.”

Sherri continued to view her kidney donation with humility and said, “I don’t notice one difference in my body at all. I think God gave us two kidneys so we could give one away.”