SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


A Gift of Life
By Marie L Monyak


December 02, 2005

Ketchikan, Alaska - What would you give to save a life?  Would you sacrifice your own life for someone else?  What about donating an organ?  And what if the person in need wasn't even a family member, but just a friend?  What if it happened, not just in theory, but in reality?   How willing would you be to "go under the knife" to donate an organ for a friend?  That's just what Kim Kirby did for Sara Schroeder.  And that's just the beginning of a long journey that these two exceptional women embarked upon back in the spring of 2004.
If you have not yet heard the story about Kim Kirby, owner of Southeast Sea Kayaks, who donated her kidney to help Sara Schroeder, a good friend and former employee, you are one of the very few in Ketchikan who hasn't heard this heartwarming story.

jpg Sara Schroeder and Kim Kirby

Sara Schroeder and Kim Kirby
St. Croix, Spring 2005 - Photo courtesy Kim Kirby

Sara Schroeder is a young 19 year old woman from Ketchikan who's been both a kayak guide and more recently, a ticket agent at Taquan Air.  She's had dreams of going to college and becoming a commercial pilot.   Kim Kirby was nothing more than Schroeder's employer until the two found so many activities in common that they became fast friends. 

When Schroeder found out through a flight physical exam and subsequent tests that she would need a kidney transplant or spend the rest of her life on dialysis, Kirby made a comment that would forever change the course of their lives. She told Schroeder she could have one of her kidneys. Even today, Kirby admits that she was sincere, but has a hard time explaining how she felt or exactly what was going through her mind when she made that offer.  One cannot begin to know the numerous tests and requirements involved in donating an organ, not the least of which was that Kirby was required to quit smoking.  Anyone who smokes or has smoked knows the challenge that Kirby was faced with, and yet she persevered. 
It helps to understand the kidneys and their importance in the workings of the human body.  Each person has two kidneys, shaped much like a kidney bean.  They may only be the size of your computer's mouse, but they have a huge responsibility.  Most importantly, they clean the blood and remove waste products, in the form of urine.  They also make red blood cells and control blood pressure amongst other things.  A person can live with just one healthy functioning kidney.  When the kidneys are not functioning properly or at one hundred percent, as in Schroeder's case, a person will experience fatigue, headaches, fluid retention, shortness of breath and changes in mental status.  The disease will continue to progress until the kidneys stop functioning altogether.  A shut down of kidney function, known as renal failure, eventually leads to death. 
When someone's kidneys are failing there are only a few treatment options; dialysis or transplant.   Dialysis is the function of a machine that performs the duties of a healthy kidney.  Most patients utilize the dialysis machine four hours at a time, three times a week.  One of the problems locally with that choice is that Ketchikan does not have a dialysis machine.   A kidney transplant is considered the best option if one is going to lead a life as close to normal as possible.  The kidney may come from a live or cadaver donor, but the best results are from a live person, preferably a relative. 
Unfortunately, none of Schroeder's relatives were a match.   Enter Kim Kirby.  First came the initial blood-type test and cross matching, where the donor and recipients blood are mixed to check for compatibility.  Once it was determined that Kirby was a match, there were numerous lab tests, x-rays, physical exams, and even counseling in regards to her decision, that filled her calendar.   Then there were trips to Washington where the surgery would take place.  The cost of air fare, hotels and ground transportation were incurred.  But on November 2nd, the transplant took place successfully with no sign of Schroeder's body rejecting the new kidney.    For the rest of her life, Kirby will need annual check-ups to ensure her remaining kidney is in good working condition.  All this, from a woman who has never been in a hospital since her tonsils were removed at age 7.  And why, because Schroeder is a friend and it's what you do for your friends. 
Schroeder is still in Seattle with her mother Amy.  If all goes well, they will return home in January.  While Amy has had to set up housekeeping down south to care for her daughter, Schroeder's grandmother, Cathryn Schroeder, left her home in Montana to come to Ketchikan and take care of things on the home front and be with Schroeder's 17 year old sister, Lily.  When Schroeder does return, she will be on medication for the rest of her life to prevent rejection of the new kidney.  She will have to use caution to stay away from anyone who is sick, since any infection can have serious consequences.
There have been other fundraisers for Sara Schroeder since this all began.  Ketchikan has always had a huge heart, especially for their own.  But medical bills continue to pile up and Schroeder's mother Amy has had to maintain two households, their home here and the temporary one in Washington.  In the face of these mounting bills she's had to take leave of her job to care for her daughter Sara.

To help with all of these expenses there will be a spaghetti feed in Ketchikan at the Moose Club on December 6th at 6pm.  Tickets will be $10.00 per person or $35.00 for a family (up to 5).   The food is being donated by Cruise Line Agencies and the coffee is donated by Raven's Brew.  There will be a live auction during dinner with Dan Kelley as auctioneer. This is an opportunity to help another in need, and with Christmas just around the corner, an opportunity to bid on some marvelous items for yourself or to give as gifts.

Kirby reported that there have been well over 50 items donated for the auction so far.  As a teaser, she mentioned that there would be art work by Chip Porter and Ray Troll, items from Parnassus Books, The Soho Coho and Exploration Gallery to name just a few.  Kirby said donated items for the auction just appear practically out of nowhere.  Many people have dropped off auction items without fanfare, their quiet generosity so typical of Ketchikan.  

Anyone who would like to donate items for the auction may drop them off at Taquan Air.  Also, Key Bank has the Sara Schroeder Family Account for anyone wishing to make a monetary donation.  During this Christmas season, when all we think about is getting a new laptop or HDTV, take a moment to think about the young woman who only wants a normal life, and her friend that gave the greatest gift - the gift of life.  


 Marie Monyak is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Marie at

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