Social media can be divisive. But Terri Thede of Normal says it can bring people together too, even strangers like those in the kidney donation chain she kicked off that will link her forever to the 72-year-old Vietnam veteran she met for the first time Wednesday.
Thede donated her kidney to Bill Parra simply because she could.
"I was between jobs, so I had the time. It was kind of a no-brainer for me," she said.
Her decision was prompted by, of all things, Facebook. Thede was moved by the story of a boy from Eastern Kentucky who needed a transplant. She went through testing at a transplant hospital in Cincinnati only to find out the boy would get a kidney from a deceased donor.
So she called Loyola Medical Center's living donor program and offered to donate to any patient who matched.
"Medical procedures have just never scared me. Needles don't frighten me, and I think that was a gift I was given and so I felt like that was a gift I could share," she said after a news conference at Loyola that also included Parra and two others who received kidneys during simultaneous surgeries performed in August.
Thede also wanted to do the most good with her donation and realized Loyola Medical Center could maximize the benefit by doing a donation chain. Her recipient was exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. His kidneys were failing due to diabetes, and he soon would have to go on dialysis. He was on the transplant list for only three weeks.
"If I was any happier, I would need a twin to share it," Parra joked to reporters.
In exchange for the donation, Parra's wife Paula agreed to donate a kidney to a patient she matched: Vitalii Stasiuk, 34, a father from Franklin Park. Stasiuk, who is Ukranian and plans to return to his home country, had been on dialysis for a year after his kidney failed due to an inflammatory disease.
“I have a 34-year-old son,” Paula said. “I was just so touched to know that I donated to someone of such a young age and who should deserve a long life.”
The chain continued when Stasiuk’s mother, Svitlana Gotska, donated one of her kidney’s to Irene Zapata, a 61-year-old woman from Chicago who was on kidney dialysis. Zapata was scared to get on the donor list but said, “I feel like a new person.”
She pointed out she has two birthdays to celebrate -- her birthday of July 3 and a second, Aug. 10, when she was part of the simultaneous surgeries that changed six lives.
Raquel Garcia Roca, surgical director of kidney transplant for Loyola, said recipients of living donor kidneys have better survival rates than those from a deceased donor.
“A deceased donor kidney, on average, 50 percent of the time will last 10 to 12 years. The average lifespan for those kidneys (from living donors) is about 15-plus years as long as the recipient is taking good care of it."
The average waiting time for a kidney from a deceased donor is five to seven years. According to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, there are 4,049 Illinois residents waiting for a kidney donation.
The meeting between donors and recipients the day before Thanksgiving was no accident. Loyola Medical Center doctors and public relations specialists thought it was a great time to reflect on the impact of one altruistic donor.
Bill Parra had choked up when he said, “There is no greater gift; no greater Thanksgiving than today.” He added, “I believe God directed her to be in my life and that he directed my wife to be in that young man’s life, but Terri started it all. Because of her six lives have changed.”
He also said the experience confirmed what he always believed about humanity.
“There are good people in the world, good-hearted people who care about other people who may not be related. I’m a total stranger but she reached out to me and touched my life," Parra said as he looked at Thede, who was surrounded by her husband Brad and daughter Sara.
Parra agreed with Thede that the country seems so divided right now.
“I don’t care who she voted for. The world would be a better place if the country was more like Terri," he said.
For her part, Thede wanted to change at least one person’s life.
"I felt like it was a way that I could connect with someone and do something for someone that didn't need anything from me," she said.
Thede was in the hospital for one day following the surgery and reports that she feels good. In fact, many in the room who listened to her story were surprised when she said she reported for her new job at Faith In Action just three weeks after her surgery.
When asked if she had any regrets, Thede was quick to say no. She thinks her experience can show others that regardless of politics, we're all connected.
“It shows that when you’re willing to step out of your comfort zone and stop just labeling people for what they are, who they voted for or whatever, like Bill said, we would all grow a lot closer rather than feeling so separated from each other.”
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