Linda Altermatt knew everyone in the operating room. As a surgical assistant at Mayo Clinic, she'd been here many times before, helping surgical teams perform life-saving kidney transplants for patients with no other options. The difference this time around was Linda was the patient.
As the Albert Lea Tribune reports, last month Linda voluntarily entered that operating room to donate one of her kidneys. She had a very special beneficiary in mind: her husband, Dan. But the kidney he would receive that day wouldn't be Linda's. Dan's transplant was possible because the Altermatts were part of an eight-person paired kidney exchange. "It's just a wonderful option for people who need a kidney transplant and have someone who's willing and able to donate but is not a match for them," Linda tells us.
The couple found themselves in that situation after kidney disease made a transplant necessary, the Tribune reports. "I knew from the beginning I wasn't a match for Dan, but I still decided to go through the three-day evaluation process," Linda says. "Thankfully, they didn't find anything health-wise to keep me from donating."
So, Linda and Dan were added to Mayo's paired kidney exchange program, where they joined a group of other recipients and donors. One of those donors was a match for Dan, and one person was a match with Linda and would receive her kidney. And so last month Dan and Linda were wheeled in to separate operating rooms for procedures that would change their lives and the lives of others as well, thanks to some friendly and familiar faces. "My surgeon was Dr. Julie Heimbach and Dan's was Dr. Mikel Prieto," Linda tells us. "I had actually done this procedure with Dr. Heimbach in the past so I knew what was going to happen step-by-step, and that put me at ease going in."
As did other members of her care team, including a surgical assistant who Linda also knew. "She held my hand as I was going to sleep," Linda says. "Everything just went very well for me."
Linda says the same can largely be said for Dan. "He's had a couple of minor setbacks, but is otherwise doing well," she says. "Once things settle down and his body adjusts to his new kidney, we're looking forward to him being healthier and having more energy."
When that day comes, Linda says their thank-you list will be even longer. "Our surgical teams have been great, of course, but my co-workers in [Mayo Clinic Health System] Albert Lea have been very supportive, as well," Linda says. "They took up a collection that's helped us a lot with meals, parking, and other expenses. We've been working toward this transplant for more than two years now. Everybody around us has just been really great."
The experience has given Dan a chance at a healthier life, and Linda a new appreciation for her work at Mayo Clinic. "It was interesting to be on the other side and to see exactly what it's like to be a patient," she says. "That's going to give me better perspective when I go back to work."
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