Organ Donation Impacts College of Medicine Staff, Families

National Donate Life Month is observed in April each year to raise awareness about the benefits of registering as an organ, eye, or tissue donor. Staff at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine shared their experiences with organ donation and how the generous sacrifice can help others.

Laura Rose

Administrative Services Assistant, Department of Urology

Laura RoseLaura Rose was diagnosed with a genetic polycystic kidney disease years before she ever needed any surgical intervention. But in 2015, her disease progressed, and she had to be put on the transplant list.

Though the prognosis was scary, the need for a transplant established an unbreakable bond between her and her niece, Laura Caraballo.

The first shot at a new kidney didn’t work out for Rose. Her niece drove from North Carolina to be there for the transplant and took her home after the disappointing news. As they made their way through the pavilion of Albert B. Chandler Hospital, it dawned on Caraballo that she couldn’t let her aunt miss out on a second chance at life. So she soon called her with a powerful offer.

“She was so touched that someone would be willing to donate their organ to someone they don’t know,” Rose said. “She told me, ‘You’re my aunt. I can’t let you die. If I can do something, I’m going to do it.’”

Caraballo was tested shortly after and discovered she was a match. They called their surgery day a “big celebration” and felt comfortable knowing they were in good hands at UK HealthCare.

Rose and Caraballo were always close. Caraballo is Rose’s namesake, and they talked on the phone frequently. Three years later, Rose and Caraballo’s strong bond is stronger than ever. Both are feeling thankful for good health and that their decision made a difference for their family.

“For someone to want you to live and say that they’d be worse off if you weren’t here, I was just so touched,” Rose said.

Rose’s life has come full circle. She now works as an administrative assistant for Stephen Strup, MD, James F. Glenn Professor and chair of the department of urology specializing in living donor kidney surgeries.  She is grateful to be part of a program that is changing lives like hers.

Walker Terhune, MS

Athletic Trainer, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery

Walker TerhuneWalker Terhune lives with a genetic kidney disease, IgA nephropathy, which took a severe toll on his health last year. He was just before the point of needing dialysis when a living donor, inspired by his story, offered to donate a kidney that would ultimately save his life.

“I was really stunned,” Terhune said. “It was just perfect timing.”

At the time of his diagnosis, Terhune’s disease had already caused nearly 50 percent of his kidney tissue to scar, making it not functional. He received medication to stop inflammation and disease progression.

In early 2020, his health spiraled, and his kidney function dropped to under 15 percent.

Through sharing his story on social media and various media outlets, Terhune received offers from dozens of potential kidney donors across the country. However, the person who became the donor was someone local who he met through his job as an athletic trainer at Woodford County High School. Dee Morgan, whose children played sports at Terhune’s school, called to say she was a match after her daughter saw Terhune’s story on the news.

Because of this donation, Terhune was able to schedule his surgery at the beginning of 2021. He is thankful for Morgan, as well as the doctors at UK HealthCare who helped treat them through surgery (Taha Ayach, MD; Malay Shah, MD; Meera Gupta, MD) and after the surgery (Thomas Waid, MD; Ana Castellanos, MD; and Hasan Fattah, MD.)

Now, he’s feeling great during his recovery, and he is excited for when he can go back to work with the people who keep him motivated.

“The relationships you get to form as an athletic trainer are pretty amazing,” he said. “At the high school level, you have an impact that’s more than just health care.”

Terhune hopes his story will raise awareness to the fact that people can sign up to be living donors. He specifically cites UK HealthCare’s living donor program, which helped him through his medical journey, as well as its peered donor program that connects potential donors to matches in different states.

Shavonna Ross, MA

Assistant Executive Director, Dean’s Office

Shavonna RossIt was more than 10 years before Shavonna Ross found out her older brother, Dane Himes, had signed up to be an organ donor. Though tragedy led her to discover the news, her brother’s noble decision to save lives brought the family some relief and peace through the sadness of his loss.

On a Tuesday last fall, at 50 years old, Himes went in for a routine stent procedure. By Thursday, intense pain and blood clots followed. On Friday night, Ross’s mom called to tell her Himes had a stroke, and though lucid, he couldn’t speak. He was placed on life support that Saturday once his brain began to bleed.

A nurse pulled Ross and her mother aside to reveal that Himes had signed up to be an organ donor in September 2007. Because of this decision, doctors were able to use three of his organs – both kidneys and the liver – to save three lives. “It was a huge sense of relief since Dane did not have a living will,” Ross said.

An emotional, rewarding moment for the family was the honor walk, a nationwide ritual which allows families to escort their relative from the hospital room to the surgery room. Health care workers line the halls to offer support.

Himes’s selfless act is commemorated with an honorary medallion in his gravestone that the Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates (KODA) had given his mother. And his legacy lives on through the lives of the people he saved. Ross and her mother have received heartfelt letters from Himes’s organ recipients thanking him for the opportunity of a second chance at life.

The experience even led Ross to follow in her older brother’s footsteps and sign up to be an organ donor.

“It was the best decision he ever made in his life,” she said. “It’s the proudest I’ve ever been of him.”

Organ Donation Resources and Links

Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates - https://donatelifeky.org/partners/koda/

UK HealthCare Living Kidney Donor Program – https://ukhealthcare.uky.edu/transplant-center/programs/living-kidney-donor-program

National Kidney Foundation “Making the Decision to Donate” –  https://www.kidney.org/transplantation/livingdonors/making-decision-to-donate