Thankful for a determined donor

Earlier this month, we told you about 11-year-old Anna Post, from Birmingham, Ala., who was one of two patients on the receiving end of a paired kidney transplant at Mayo Clinic in December. We also hinted at the story behind the person who gave that kidney to Anna, even though he'd originally set out to donate it to his cousin, Judy Thorson, age 51. Now we can bring you the full story, thanks to the Cresco (Iowa) Times Plain Dealer.

Anna Post and Shelby Courtney
Shelby Courtney meets Anna Post, who benefited from paired kidney donation.

In a story last week, the Plain Dealer detailed how Shelby Courtney made it his personal mission to do whatever needed to be done to give a kidney to his cousin after learning that she needed a transplant. "Other donors came forward but just weren’t a match,” Thorson tells the paper. “So, Shelby stepped forward … bound and determined to be my donor.”

That determination hit a couple small snags. First, Courtney and Thorson learned that their "antigen genetic match was a ‘zero genetic match,’ but the antibodies were a good match.” The antigen issue, thankfully, wasn't a deal-breaker. Then, even though Courtney was in good overall physical shape, doctors suggested he lose "5 to 10 pounds." That was all he needed to hear, according to Thorson. "He immediately started working out even more and also changed his diet," she says. "He was determined to do whatever it took to donate his kidney to me.”

When he came back to Mayo Clinic a short time later and stepped back on the scale, doctors discovered that Courtney had, in fact, "lost a total of 23 pounds," Thorson says. “Mayo was extremely pleased with the weight loss and told Shelby he was now even a better possibility to help me." And, she says, "maybe even someone else,” through a paired donation. And that "someone else," of course, turned out to be young Anna Post. As Thorson told the Rochester Post-Bulletin, Courtney could have donated directly to her but was more than happy that two people were able to benefit from his donation through the paired donor program.

As she continues to recover from her surgery at the Gift of Life Transplant House in Rochester, Thorson says she'll never forget, or be able to properly thank, the person who made that happen. “None of this would ever have happened if Shelby hadn’t stepped forward,” she says. “I told him, 'Look at what you did -- you tried to help one person and you ended up helping not only me but another whole family as well." And for that, she says the first thing Anna Post said to Courtney after the two met was, "Thank you. Merry Christmas."

You can step forward and help our cause by sharing this story and others, along with your comments below.