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Answering the call : Mom meets child who received her kidney

Social worker Lisa James works with kidney patients

DALLAS – May 2nd, 2019 – When she turned 48, Lisa James of Arlington, Texas, decided she wanted to make the ultimate gift by donating one of her kidneys to a child she hadn’t met.

Social worker Lisa James works with kidney patients

“We get one chance to make a really big difference, and this was my calling,” said Lisa, a mother of three and a social worker who works with kidney patients. She called UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and asked to be added to the list of interested kidney donors.

Nearby at Children’s Health Dallas, LeeAnn Sweeney and her family were hoping for a miracle. LeeAnn, age 10, had been coping with kidney problems since birth. LeeAnn was born with kidney disease and only one kidney that had just 33 percent of normal function. Her condition was managed with medication until she was 5, when she got a urinary tract infection that went septic and she went into kidney failure. LeeAnn was on dialysis for four years before she finally got confirmation she would receive her transplant.

Meeting
for the first time

Life-changing
is a word commonly used by those involved with transplant, and this case was no
different. In September 2018, Lisa’s kidney was transplanted to LeeAnn, thanks
to a coordinated team of transplant surgeons and health care professionals at
UT Southwestern. Lisa was thrilled to hear that the recipient was a 10-year-old
girl, close in age to her own daughter.

The two of
them recently met in person for the first time. LeeAnn’s mother, Tiffany
Fincher, told Lisa how incredible it felt to see normal kidney function in her
daughter for the first time since LeeAnn was born.

“It was like
liquid gold,” Tiffany said.

“You would
never think that you’d get so excited about watching pee.”

Lisa knew
how much her gift would mean to a family because she works daily with kidney
disease patients. She has spent the past 13 years as a social worker at a
dialysis clinic, where she witnesses firsthand how difficult life without
healthy kidneys can be.

“I always
felt a tug on my heart,” Lisa said. “My patients are the real heroes. Their
lives depend on that machine.”

It’s fitting
that Lisa met LeeAnn during National Donate Life Month, a national awareness
campaign that encourages Americans to register as organ, eye, and tissue donors
and celebrates those who have saved lives through the gift of donation.

“You’ve
changed all of our lives. We were on the list for over two years,” Tiffany told
Lisa and her family. “To have a stranger step up to the plate has been a huge
blessing for us.”

When
greeting her at the meeting, transplant surgeon Dr. Christine Hwang had a
message for Lisa.

“You’ve done
a wonderful thing and you’ve helped two children. One who received your kidney
and another who moved up on the transplant waiting list,” said Dr. Hwang,
Associate Professor of Surgery at UT Southwestern.

During 2018,
91 people received a new kidney through UT Southwestern’s program. Nearly 600
patients have received life-changing kidney transplants since the program began
in 2007. UT Southwestern also has well-established programs for liver, lung,
and heart transplants.

Lisa credits
her husband, Rich, with making her recovery time smooth and easy. The couple
have been married 21 years. “I couldn’t have done it without him. He was taking
care of all of us,” Lisa said. “My kids were so excited. They know how much my
work means to me.”

After just
two weeks at home, Lisa went back to work, spending time with family and
friends, and swimming laps, one of her favorite ways to exercise.

For LeeAnn,
life couldn’t be better. The healthy third grader is back to enjoying swimming,
painting, drawing, and playing with her four siblings and friends. Her family
is able to take field trips and vacations together for the first time in years.

The 36,527
organ transplants performed in the U.S. in 2018 set an annual record for the
sixth straight year, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).
UT Southwestern is part of the national effort to raise awareness about the
need for donors, the organ shortage, and the donor registration process. Those
who are interested can register to become an organ donor.

About UT
Southwestern Medical Center

UT
Southwestern, one of the premier academic medical centers in USA, integrates
pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education.

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