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.
Sara Schroeder and
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.
is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Marie at email@example.com
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