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SCOTTSBLUFF, Neb. (AP) — Terri Martin was on her way to Lincoln for meetings when the life-changing call came. She was just outside of York, Nebraska, on Interstate 80.

Earlier in the trip, she was told the news but didn’t believe George Schlothauer Jr. had his facts right.

“I called to see if I could donate my kidney to you,” she remembers him saying. “But the person at Presbyterian St. Luke’s Hospital in Denver said you have a donor.”

A few hours later, someone from Presbyterian St. Luke’s called and asked, “How does May 19 sound to you?”

“For what?” Terri asked.

About 14 months earlier, Terri’s doctor had told her that without a kidney transplant, she had two years to live.

Terri was born with bad kidneys and, at age 30, she was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease.

“I would come home from work (as the director of curriculum and assessment for Gering Public Schools) and lay on the couch,” Terri told the Scottsbluff Star Herald . She had no energy and felt terrible.

Her best friend, Kim Klein, had tried to give her one of her kidneys but she was not able to become a living donor. Kim, unable to give her own kidney, decided to write a letter and post it on social media looking for a living donor for Terri.

“A living donor will go on to have a great quality of life without any side effects,” Dr. Peter Kennealey, director of the kidney transplant program at University of Colorado Hospital, said. “You can live with just one kidney.”

Living donors can donate a kidney or part of their liver.

Patients are encouraged to reach out to family and friends to find a living donor. Social media, letters, even bumper stickers have been used by those needing a transplant as ways to find a living donor.

For Terri, a donor had been found and the transplant was scheduled.

May 19, 2014, was about a month away and on the side of the road on I-80, she broke down.

“I fell apart,” she said. “I was dumbfounded and crying.”

Terri called her doctor in Scottsbluff, the one who referred her to Presbyterian St. Luke’s, for advice. She was a little nervous about the transplant.

“He told me, ‘Terri, you do the transplant or you die.'”

Her living donor, she was told, was someone she knew — Laurie Budd.

She didn’t recognize the last name.

“I didn’t know a Laurie Budd,” Terri said.

It turned out she was Terri’s best friend’s sister.

“I read my sister’s letter and said, ‘I think this is my sister’s friend Terri,'” Laurie said. “We had met once and I said, ‘I can do this.'”

She called the hospital and answered a number of questions. Then she traveled to the hospital for tests.

“We try to make it (the donor process) easy,” Keneally said.

There are forms to fill out and tests to take. The living donor doesn’t have to pay for anything. Their only cost is travel and time off from work.

The same was true at Presbyterian St. Luke’s.

“They run it like a well-oiled machine,” Laurie’s husband, Fred, said.

Through the process, the potential living donor can learn about the hospital and more about what they are doing. The hospital can also learn more about the potential donor to make sure they are healthy, ready to become a living donor and have a good support system.

Every step of the way, doctors gave Laurie every opportunity to back out, but she didn’t. Laurie was a near perfect match.

Terri’s living donor was found.

“Are you sure you want to give up a part of yourself?” Laurie’s dad asked her. Her answer was yes, even if it had been for a stranger.

“It’s a simple thing,” Laurie said. “And maybe my purpose in life is to be Terri’s living donor.”

The day of the transplant, the two ladies were in beds next to each other. Each would have their own surgical teams.

Terri’s doctor was all business.

“Are you ready?” he asked Terri. “OK, let’s go.”

Laurie’s doctor was more talkative.

“He asked me what made me decide to give Terri a kidney,” Laurie said.

“About a year ago,” she told him, “Terri bought me a sandwich and wouldn’t let me pay for it (their first meeting). So I decided to give her a kidney.”

They laughed and headed into surgery.

Laurie’s surgery lasted 57 minutes. Terri’s lasted five hours.

“I didn’t know Terri’s family until we met in the waiting room,” Fred said. “But it felt like I knew them for a lifetime.”

After the surgery “I felt very good,” Terri said. “I had energy. It was amazing.”

After the surgery, Laurie’s dad told Terri, “You’re part of the family now.”

“We’re sisters,” Laurie said.

“We call ourselves kidney sisters,” Terri said as the two give each other a hug and wipe tears from their eyes.

Today, Laurie has no ill effects from the transplant.

“I’m just a kidney short,” she said. “Would I do it again? Absolutely.”

Had Laurie not been a match for Terri, she said she would have become a living donor for someone else, even if she didn’t know the person.

There are a growing number of people who are becoming living donors even for people they don’t know, according to Keneally. It is a good thing because the need for living donors is great.

Nationwide, there are about 100,000 people looking for a living donor. Men and women, who are facing the same question, get a transplant or die.

Before the transplant, Terri’s kidney was working at 11 percent; after the transplant it is at 88 percent. She has to take anti-rejection drugs, but she is alive and well.

“I got my family. I got my life,” Terri said. “I get to live. What a wonderful gift. There is no way I can thank Laurie enough.”


Information from: Star-Herald,