An article on Jenny Summers and her 10-year battle with kidney failure was published in The Salem News in July of last year.
Summers was hesitant to share her story from the start. With a bit of prodding from her mom and family, she agreed to meet with The Salem News to discuss her fight as a 33-year-old single mother with stage 4 renal failure.
“I don’t want sympathy for what is going on, I just want to share the information,” Summers said in the 2020 interview.
After being in pre-term labor with twins almost 11 years ago, her kidneys began to fail. When was tested, she was in stage 2 renal failure. Her kidney function was monitored for years, then she completed prerequisite testing for a transplant in 2019. She was told she was “too healthy” at the time to be listed. When tested in February of 2020, her failure was further advanced and she was placed on the active transplant list.
Living with the failure is an option, but not one she wants to continue with the remainder of her life. At age 33, and the mother of twins, she wants to be more active than her body allows.
The article was posted on thesalemnewsonline.com and shared to social media July 21, 2020. The article was shared rapidly, reaching almost 3,000 people within a couple of days. Summers said the messages began to overflow her inbox from people who did not know the severity of her medical situation, well-wishes, prayers, offers of help and encouragement.
One message caught her eye. “How do I get tested?” Katie James asked.
James read the article sitting alongside her husband of 12 years, Kevin, on the couch that evening. She knew Summers in passing, their kids are friends and had been since preschool. They were acquaintances, but not necessarily friends.
“I just felt moved to talk to her about it. I related to her as a mom, and a single mom, as I once was with my oldest son,” said Katie James.
The next day, James began the lengthy process of becoming a donor. A thorough donor questionnaire with Barnes-Jewish Hospital in Saint Louis was the first step. Within six days of the article, James was completing the pre-screen donor packet. From there testing, more questionnaires and yet more testing took place. With each step passed, Summers and James felt it was a “hurry-up-and-wait” process. But the pair also felt hope, as each step proved to be successful. James was seemingly a perfect match for Summers.
“After I found out she was interested in being tested, I was overjoyed. I documented my journey on Facebook, because I wanted to remember all of the good news, as well as the bad,” shared Summers. “I named Katie, “Hope” on my posts because we did not want to share anything about her identity until we were 100 percent sure.”
During this process, The Salem News was aware Summers had a potential donor, but the donor remained anonymous until last week when she was first interviewed for this story. Summers contacted the newspaper Jan. 9 to let us know the donor was a match and surgery was scheduled.
James got to tell Summers the great news.
As James got further along in the donor process, she was assigned a donor coordinator at Barnes. Summers has had the same coordinator since being added to the organ donation list. The donor and recipient coordinators are not in the same office, and operate completely detached from each other.
Sometimes news reaches donors before recipients, as was the case with Summers. James got a call Jan. 5 to schedule surgery. She selected the second date as it falls just after her youngest child’s sixth birthday. She called Summers to deliver the good news.
“We (her twins and herself) were in the car, and we just all screamed. The floodgates opened as all emotions came up. . . . . I was thrilled, nervous, excited, thankful, so many things at once,” Summers said.
Summers’ coordinator called six days later to discuss the pre-operative and surgery day.
In a few short weeks, both Summers and James will be wheeled back into side-by-side operating rooms, as James gives Summers more of a gift than she will ever know.
When asked if either was nervous, they both agreed.
“We feel at peace with it,” they both said.
“I felt inspired to help her, and it just feels like it was the right thing to do,” said James. “We do feel like we are friends, now!”
“It isn’t like she is offering something small to help me out, she is giving me a piece of herself, to make my life better,” said Summers. In fact, their kids have joked and asked if maybe they will be cousins now because their moms are sharing organs.
The recovery time for each is about four to six weeks after surgery.
Summers credits the support system made up of family, friends, church families and others with keeping her faith during this process.
“I can only hope and pray that this is what Heaven feels like – to be loved and supported by so many,” Summers said. “We have to keep our faith. The fight has been a long, hard one, but the end result is going to be beautiful.”
“Through this whole process I recognized one thing. I have taken my health for granted, and didn’t realize that until going through this with Jenny,” said James. “I can’t imagine how she has felt for over 10 years waiting for answers like this, because I have only been waiting since July.”
Becoming a donor
Taking a look at the numbers for organ transplants are staggering:
• 22 people die each day because the organ they need is not donated in time;
• another person is added to the waiting list every 10 minutes;
• one organ, eye and tissue donor can save and heal more than 75 lives.
While many people are in favor of becoming a donor, only close to 60 percent are registered.
People of all ages and medical histories can be potential donors. A person’s medical condition at the time of death will determine what organs and tissues can be donated.
Donate Life America manages the National Donate Life Registry. The registry was launched in 2015 to make donor registration easy. Registering your decision to be an organ donor in the registry ensures your status travels with you, no matter where you live or visit in the country.
Any adult age 18 or older can register to be a donor – regardless of age or medical history.
The National Donate Life Registry is separate from an individual’s state donor registry.
To register on the national database visit RegisterMe.org.
While some choose to donate at the end of life, living donor transplants are a possible alternative. A living donor can supply organs, however, the most frequent needed is the kidney, and it is the most frequent type of living organ donation.