The pandemic is having a devastating impact on people living with kidney disease, including causing people with all stages of the disease to be classified as high risk for severe infection from COVID-19. As someone living with polycystic kidney disease (PKD) and who is taking immunosuppressive medicines after receiving a kidney transplant, I have been very careful to protect myself from COVID-19 as much as possible. In 2008, a man I had never met decided to make a non-directed kidney donation — when a living donor offers to donate a kidney to anyone who is a match. It was my incredible good fortune to receive this kidney, and I have treasured and protected his give ever since. When I learned that the healthy man who saved my life died of COVID-19 at the age of 48, I was shocked and deeply saddened.
Anthony, my donor who became my friend, and I were part of the first paired organ exchange in New York and only the second ever in the entire U.S. When I first learned that I had PKD, my wonderful husband, Doug, offered to donate his kidney to me, but we were not a match. Through the paired exchange that involved nearly 50 clinicians working in eight operating rooms, four people received kidneys from four living donors, including the kidney donated to me by Anthony and the kidney donated by Doug to a 22-year-old college student with lupus.
Being such a new procedure at the time, the exchange received a lot of media attention and even inspired an episode of the popular show Grey's Anatomy. I met Anthony three weeks after receiving his kidney, when the hospital held a press conference about the surgeries. I remember looking at him at the press conference and being amazed that one of his kidneys was inside my body, working like a charm. In the time since, Anthony, Doug and I became great friends. We grew close, spoke often and celebrated holidays together at each other's houses. Doug and I were honored at the American Kidney Fund's (AKF) 6th Annual New York Spring Event in 2012 and Anthony was there to support us.
Doug, who later joined AKF's National Board of Trustees, died of cancer in 2016, and Anthony died of COVID-19 in December 2020. I always considered Anthony my guardian angel because of his selfless kidney donation. Now I have two angels watching over me. Though I am devastated by Anthony's death, I know that part of him lives on inside of me.