Location: Manchester, Connecticut
As the Youth Service Coordinator at Manchester Youth Services, Beth Mix works with first-time offenders to try to make their first offense their last. She chalks most offenses up to brain development issues and uses her own background as someone who had, as she puts it, “sticky fingers” when she was a teenager to relate to the teens and “try to make sure they don’t do it again.” Beth has had great success with her caseload and likes her job, but after twenty-five years, she was ready for a break. The problem is that civil service jobs do not readily lend themselves to taking some personal leave to just unwind and recharge.
Beth’s solution was decidedly out of the box. Just as she was lamenting her need for some time off and her inability to get it, she heard a story on NPR about the need for organ donations and how many people tragically die while waiting for a new organ on the organ transplant list. Beth had what she describes as a eureka moment. “I have two kidneys,” she remembers thinking to herself. “Someone needs a kidney…and I need time off!”
She didn’t put it quite like that when she was interviewed by the social worker and psychiatrist at Yale University Hospital to see if she was emotionally up to the challenge of being an organ donor. “I told them I just want to give someone life after hearing the story on NPR,” Beth says. “I did not say I need the time off!” She also met with a surgeon and underwent several physical tests, including preliminary blood work, 24-hour urine collection (“Not easy for a woman!” Beth says) and a colonoscopy. Beth passed all of her tests with flying colors except for one. The hospital was initially unable to reach her husband to make sure that he approved of his wife’s decision to donate an organ to a stranger. Her husband happened to be on board, but it angered Beth that they needed his okay before proceeding. “It’s my body!” she remembers telling them.
Beth completed all of the screening in October of 2015. She had just turned 50 and both her older son and the two exchanges students she had housed for the past year had recently left. She was asked when she wanted to proceed and she picked the second week in November. She was also asked if she wanted to designate a specific person to receive her kidney but she opted to leave it up to the hospital. On the morning of the surgery, Beth found herself thinking about that person. It became very real and much more than a way to get time off. “I started thinking about saving a life,” Beth says, explaining that she was not thinking so much about the person who would be receiving her kidney but “the realization that someone lower on the list would move up because of me.”
There was not a lot of anxiety about the surgery itself because the surgeon told her that it would be easier than her caesarean section. Beth’s C-section with her second child had been easy, so that was quite reassuring. Nonetheless, on the day of the surgery, Beth found that she was quite edgy. No sooner did she ask for something to help her relax than she was out, and when she woke up she was relieved to learn the surgery was over but dismayed to learn that they were totally wrong about her level of pain. “I felt awful,” Beth recalls. “I kept moaning and groaning.” She was relieved to have her husband there, even though before the surgery she had told him that he didn’t need to stay. She was glad he had not listened to her. Everything was painful. Sitting up. Trying to walk. Using the bathroom. Even the morphine drip made her nauseated. “I thought the hospital stay would be good,” Beth says, “but I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.”
The hospital sent her home with all of her prescriptions. Everything related to the surgery, from doctor’s visits to the hospital stay to her medications, were all completely covered. “Except for the parking!” Beth says. “For some reason, that was on me.” She paid $3 each time she parked for an appointment or a follow up visit, something she found more amusing that annoying. “It just seems odd that they wouldn’t pay for that,” she says. Beth also went home with the coveted doctor’s note for time off, with a notation that she should work as tolerated. But here’s the kicker. Beth found that time at home was boring. She went stir crazy. When she tried to return to work after one week, they sent her back home. “My work told me I needed to be home,” Beth says, “but I wantedto be back at work.”
The following week when she was back at Yale Hospital for a follow up visit, she met a woman in the waiting room who was telling someone that she was there with her son who had just received a kidney from a stranger. Beth walked over to her and said, “I think you are the mother of my kidney!” They determined that was, in fact, the case and Beth was immediately taken to meet the young man who was the happy recipient of her kidney. He was a diabetic who had been on dialysis for four years and was in acute renal failure. Beth walked in and asked him, “How’s lefty?” He thanked her profusely and they chatted, learning that they were compatible beyond their organs. Beth was happy to note that he was reading a biography of FDR. “Oh yay! He’s a Dem!” she remembers thinking.
Beth learned that a colleague of his had tried to donate a kidney to him, but she had not been a match. So instead she joined the paired donation list, something Beth now touts as one of the key takeaways from her experience. When Beth gave him her kidney, his colleague – who was matched with him on the paired donation list – donated her kidney to a little boy with Down Syndrome. “So not being a match is not an excuse,” Beth says. “Everyone can help by getting on the paired donation list.”
Reflecting on her decision, Beth is glad she decided to do it even though it did not turn out as she had planned. She appreciates all of the support she received (including the kidney-themed party her colleagues threw her before the surgery, complete with kidney bean cupcakes) and the opportunity to see how much kindness surrounds her. And she is grateful for the first-hand look she got at the need for organ donations and the retort she now has when someone says that he wishes he could help but he is not a match. “Paired donations!” Beth says.
For more information about paired donations, visit the Alliance for Paired Kidney Donation: