Living Organ Donor and Recipient Pairs Share Their Stories

A Life-Giving Bond

When a loved one falls ill, humans are hardwired to respond generously with gifts. Casseroles and bouquets of flowers abound, among other less tangible gifts of time and acts of service – anything that will put a smile on their loved one’s face and help to ease the suffering. Here, we are honored to share six accounts of giving in the ultimate form: living organ donation. Prior to their transplant surgeries, these pairs were already linked in some way as siblings, parent and child, church congregants, or fellow softball moms. Post-transplant, these pairs share an unparalleled bond along with enlightened perspectives on life, compassion, and humanity. Read on for their stories. 

Photography by Emily Pérez Long

Santiago Castro Camacho and his mother and organ donor Maria Bertha Castro

Recipient: Santiago Castro Camacho

Donor: Maria Bertha Castro

 

“I started having kidney problems in 2018. Several men in my family suffer from renal disease, and three of them have passed away as a result. I started dialysis in Mexico and had two surgeries before moving to the United States. Shortly after the move, I had to have another surgery and a blood transfusion. I had dialysis every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for two years. I was added to the transplant list, and my doctor told me it would likely take seven years for me to receive a kidney. My mom offered to be my donor right away, but I knew that would involve risk. It would be a big surgery – not only for me, but for her, too. Both lives would be on the line, and I didn’t want to risk leaving my family without my mom. One of my nephrologists told me, ‘You can wait, but if you receive a kidney from a family member, it’s going to be better, because it will be a more compatible match.’ We started lab work and found out that my mom and I were 98% compatible. After being postponed numerous times due to the pandemic, our surgery finally took place in March 2021. My life has changed a lot since the transplant. I attended a concert in Chicago. I traveled to Mexico to see my dad. My life depends on me now, not on a machine.” – Santiago

 

“Learning of Santiago’s diagnosis was very hard for me, because my brother had the same problem maybe 30 years before. I remembered all the struggles my brother went through, and he eventually passed away from the disease. I cried all the time thinking that maybe Santiago would die one day, too. When we learned of Santiago’s condition, I told the doctors, ‘I can give him my kidney.’ But, I had to wait until Santiago finally accepted before we could move forward. The night after our surgery was the best night. The doctors came in and said, ‘Maria, your kidney is very healthy for him,’ and I was so happy. I felt pain from my surgery, but my heart could finally rest. Being a donor is satisfactory for me because you’re not only giving an organ. You’re giving life to someone. You’re giving a second chance to somebody else.” – Maria

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Claudia Bradford and her friend and organ donor Doll Sandridge

Donor: Doll Sandridge

Recipient: Claudia Bradford

 

“Since I was a young girl, I have always had a passion for organ donation. When I learned of Claudia’s need, it was not hard to decide to donate. We share generational family ties, so she is like an aunt to me. Since I have donated my kidney, life has been more purposeful. I feel good knowing that God saw fit to use me to help another one of his children. I urge anyone within their will to promote awareness and encourage others to be added to the donor list.” – Doll

 

“In 2009, I lost both kidneys due to a genetic mutation and had to start dialysis. From 2011 to 2013, I was in the process of completing some college courses. Doll had started a new job and was trying to get her first year behind her. I remember one Sunday at church, Doll came up to me and asked, ‘Sister Claudia, do you need a kidney? I heard you need a kidney.’ I was stunned, but I answered, ‘yes I do.’ Doll replied, ‘I want to give you one of mine!’ I really tried to talk her out of it, because she was young and had her own life to be concerned about, but it was to no avail. This young lady was determined to get it done! After getting lab work done, we found out that Doll was a perfect match, and she was young and in good shape. At that point, Doll was really fired up and ready to get it done, but I convinced her to be patient. I needed to finish school, and she needed to be on her job for a year. The day arrived in June of 2013 – Doll and I met up again for the last time as separate individuals. About three hours later, she became a part of me, and I became a part of her! Almost 10 years later, we are both doing fantastic. Life for me has been amazing since my transplant. God is so good!” – Claudia

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Susan Crownover and her friend and organ donor Kelley Boyd

Donor: Kelley Boyd

Recipient: Susan Crownover

 

“I knew Susan through the softball world. My daughter Madison played middle school and high school softball for Susan at GPS. At that time, we didn’t know anything was going on. Then, a couple years into it, Madison started dating Susan’s son Matthew, and still, nobody knew she was sick. One day, I was watching Matthew pitch for Clemson on ESPN. They started talking about Susan’s story, and it just touched my heart. I told myself that day that I wanted to be her donor. And if anyone knows me, I hate needles. But I felt so strongly about it, I wanted to help her. So, I had blood work done, and after a lot of back and forth, I finally found out I was a match. I couldn’t wait to tell Susan. I shared the news with her right after she finished coaching a softball game. She dropped everything she was holding, and we hugged. We took the first available date for the transplant, and the surgery was a success. Susan’s body accepted the kidney right away with no complications. After the operation, I had to go back to the doctor for follow-ups. When you sit there in the waiting room and see all the sick people … it makes me wish I had another kidney to give. Not long after the transplant, Madison and Matthew got engaged. They are now married and have blessed us with a precious grandson, Andrew.” – Kelley

 

“I was diagnosed with IgA Nephropathy in the early ’90s. Through diet and lifestyle changes, I had a good handle on it and did pretty well for 20 years. Then, over the next five years, I started to go downhill pretty quickly. One day I was driving home after having some blood work done, and a nurse called to tell me I would have to start dialysis immediately. I lived on dialysis for only six months when Kelley, my son’s girlfriend’s mother, found out she was a match. It was a miracle – we were a perfect antigen match. It’s hard to wrap your mind around someone outside of your family doing something like that for you. Even to this day, it amazes me. The woman hates needles. To take an organ out of her body and give it to me so I can live – it’s a lot. When people say you’re blessed, it’s a whole new meaning. She gave me life again. I’ll never be able to thank her enough for that.” – Susan

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Chuck Clevenger and his sister and organ donor Jill Hartness

Donor:  Jill Hartness

Recipient: Chuck Clevenger

 

“My brother needed a kidney. So, of course, there was no question in my mind to donate. As a person of faith, I believe my kidney was created to be his all along. I’m so thankful I was in a position to be able to donate; it was not as simple as I thought to become an approved donor and a match. I went through rounds of testing and prayed every day I would be able to donate to him. I remember the day I finally got the call that we were a match; I fell to my knees crying. We had our transplant the week of Thanksgiving in 2006, and everything went well. He immediately started to feel better. It was difficult for our parents on the day of the transplant while we were both in surgery, but God carried us all through. We are so thankful for our healthy kidneys. We celebrate our ‘kidneyversary’ every year together and never take for granted our continued good health. We remain grateful to God for each other and for God’s grace over our lives.” – Jill

 

“After many years of living with type 1 diabetes, I developed chronic kidney disease in the early 00s. I began seeing a nephrologist at that time, and with better diabetes management and help from the nephrologist, I was able to continue leading a normal life for several years. In the summer of 2005, I was told that I should start looking to be added to a transplant list. After some research, I decided to contact the transplant program at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. I spent a few days at the hospital being checked out, and I was added to the list. In late October 2006, I was told that I should get ready to start dialysis. My family has always been very supportive and loving and began looking for alternative options to dialysis. Two family members were potential donors, but only my sister Jill was a candidate. Jill offered to donate one of her kidneys without hesitation! Surgery was scheduled for November 21, 2006, and was successful. Thanks to Jill, I have been able to live a normal life for the past 15 years and hope for many more.” – Chuck

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Amy Williams and her sister and organ donor Frances Oliver

Photo by Rich Smith

Recipient: Amy Williams

Donor: Frances Oliver

 

“I was 30 when I had my first kidney transplant. My husband Cameron gave me a kidney less than a year into our marriage. Afterward, my health returned; we moved from Memphis to Chattanooga, had two girls, and before we knew it, 13 years passed. In 2019, I learned my first transplant was failing. I was 43 and scared. My nephrologist tried to save the kidney, but nothing worked, and in the summer of 2021, I started dialysis. Around this time my sister Fran asked to be tested. We found out that we were compatible, and the transplant was performed on November 10, 2021. Fran and I are close in age – our birthdays are 364 days apart – and we’ve always been close. But knowing she was excited to do this huge, selfless thing made me love her even more. I texted her recently after a long walk. I wrote, ‘I would not have been able to do that without you!’ Because of my sister’s gift, I now have hope for the future. I can play with my girls, travel with my husband, and live without being bound to hospitals and dialysis clinics. What my sister actually gave me was a chance to live.” – Amy

 

“My sister Amy went into kidney failure, and we knew she would need a transplant within the year. She had another donor that fell through at the last minute. I didn’t think that I would be able to donate because I’m 44 years old, but I offered anyway because I figured it couldn’t hurt to try. I went through the entire process, and I was elated to find out that I was able to donate. I wanted to do it from the very beginning and never questioned my decision because she is my sister. I know she would do the same for me if our situation was reversed. I’m extremely grateful that I was able to donate, and I am thankful for my own health after realizing how fragile life can be.” – Frances

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