The best gifts come in paired packages

AnnaAll young William Post wanted for Christmas was a new kidney for his sister, Anna, whose own 11-year-old kidneys weren't up to their task anymore. Okay, maybe that wasn't all he wanted, but it was top of the list according to a story that ran in the Rochester Post-Bulletin last week. While the rest of us were busy with the usual merry-making, the Post family was celebrating with a little extra joy while the stars perhaps shone a little brighter -- providing light at the end of the family's nephrological tunnel.

Last year's holiday season brought the first sign there was trouble with Anna's kidneys, when tests showed they were only "working at 80 percent." Within five months, that number had dropped to 42 percent. At that point, she was whisked to Mayo Clinic from her hometown of Birmingham, Ala., and was placed on dialysis. Her parents started to think about which one of them would donate a kidney to their daughter. Then they received the difficult news that neither of them would be able to offer that gift -- Lisa Post has Type A blood, and Jeff, Post, Type B, but Anna was Type O. That spells incompatible.

That's when the Posts learned about Mayo's paired kidney donation program, which helped take the edge off of the devastating news. The paired donation program is "an option when prospective kidney donors and their recipients aren't compatible for a kidney transplant," according to Mayo's website. The approach allows an incompatible donor to donate a kidney to another person in need of a transplant who has a willing donor who is compatible with the original intended recipient. It's a relatively simple concept that's somewhat difficult to describe, which is why they've developed a helpful graphic for it.

And so, on Dec. 23, Mayo Clinic helped with a special gift exchange. As the Post-Bulletin tells it, through the miracle of paired kidney donation, "Anna Post and 51-year-old Judy Thorson received new kidneys from complete strangers." Jeff Post's kidney went to Thorson, whose cousin, Shelby Courtney, donated a healthy kidney to Anna. Courtney could have donated directly to Thorson, who has battled kidney disease for many years, but both were more than happy that two people were able to benefit from the donation. "I've told him a million times thank you," Thorson says of her cousin. "You not only helped one person, but you've helped two."

Anna with Mikel Prieto, M.D.
Anna with Mikel Prieto, M.D.

Both transplants went well, and Mayo transplant surgeon Mikel Prieto, M.D., says Anna's new kidney is working even better than a normal kidney. On Christmas Eve, as Anna Post rested at Mayo Eugenio Litta Children's Hospital, Dr. Prieto told the newspaper he expects Anna's new kidney to last for many years, and maybe even the rest of her natural life.

There were some delays along the way. And it was during one of them that  that 10-year-old William Post wrote a letter to Santa suggesting that all he wanted this year was a kidney for his sister. (He did give his parents a separate list, the P-B reports.) For her part, in her hospital bed with an American Girl doll close at her side, Anna had only one thought to share after her surgery, whispering, "Merry Christmas." (And to all, we'll add, a good gift of life.)

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