In 2009, Michael Durr became ill in Panama. He tried to just work through it. Being retired Navy personnel and a busy real estate developer in Panama, his work ethic pushed him onward.
But when he couldn’t go on any further and feeling gravely ill, he was taken to a hospital in Panama, where he was told that he had pneumonia for starters. When he flew back home to the U.S., he was immediately placed in the ICU, where he later was diagnosed with kidney failure. He began dialysis, initially at a hospital, then at a dialysis center later on in 2009 in Spring Hill. A year later, he was able to start dialysis at home.
Durr was placed on the national waiting list for a kidney transplant to await a kidney donation from an organ donor who had passed away. Over 80,000 people were listed on the national waiting list at the time. He was told that it could take between three to five years to find a donor match.
From the most recent data, there is an average of 2.5 million deaths in the U.S., if each of those people chose to donate their organs, there would be no shortage and many people may not die waiting for an organ transplant.
National Donate Life Month is celebrated in April.
An average of 18 people die each day waiting for organ transplants, because there is such a shortage of donated organs, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services statistics.
As Michael Durr awaited a kidney, he was determined to live life to the fullest. He bought a car for drag racing. He was going to fulfill his life’s “to-do” list.
May 2011, Durr and his wife of 35 years, Gigi, were told of the National Kidney Registry paired exchange program from the Lifelink of Florida staff at Tampa General Hospital. In this paired exchange program, a living donor is matched with a person who is need of a kidney through its common registry of donors.
Founded by the National Kidney Registry’s founder and president, Garet Hil, the living donor, usually a family member or friend of someone in need of kidney donation, “pays it forward” and donates a kidney in the name of their loved one who is need of a kidney donation. In return, their loved one is matched with a donor through the same living donor common registry, usually receiving a kidney within six months.
Gigi and Michael had to find a living kidney donor because the waiting list from a deceased donor was so long.
Gigi immediately started a rigorous four months of medical testing to see if she could qualify to be a kidney donor. The four months of medical tests and exams were assessing to see whether she would experience any adverse effects of what is known at this time after donating a kidney.
“They had to make sure I was healthy enough so that I would not be compromised if I were to donate a kidney”, explained Gigi.
September 2011, Gigi had passed all the tests and was cleared to be a living kidney donor, placed on the Nation Kidney Registry’s common registry. She was scheduled for surgery at Tampa General Hospital last December to donate her kidney.
Through the common registry, a match was found for Gigi’s husband right away. They were ecstatic. Michael was scheduled for surgery at Tampa General Hospital to receive his new kidney the same day as Gigi’s surgery.
Later, they learned much to their surprise, they were part of the longest kidney donation chain, linking 60 people and 30 living kidney donors from across the country.
The National Kidney Registry and the longest kidney donation chain was recently featured on ABC’s World News with Diane Sawyer and in a New York Times article last month.
Michael’s kidney donor, Becky Clark, from Sarasota, was scheduled for surgery to donate her kidney the same day. Gigi and Becky were able to meet each other a couple days later while they were in the hospital, recovering from their surgeries.
“We just cried together and hugged each other. And Becky still stays in contact with Michael through Facebook, asking him how her kidney is doing”, explained Gigi.
Gigi and Michael Durr are embracing life together and moving onward with their active lives without the hindrances of dialysis and illness. They have plans to go back to Panama and to drag racing, two of their passions in life.
The need is so great for organ donors, Gigi and Michael are fortunate to have found a match through the living donor program. Michael could have died waiting on that list for a deceased organ donor.
Consider signing up as an organ donor today and help to save the lives of those waiting for an organ transplant.
For more info about organ donations, visit organdonor.gov or and to register as an organ donor, go to donatelifeflorida.org.
For further info about the living kidney donor- paired exchange program, contact:
Candace Skelton, RN
Living Donor Coordinator, Lifelink of Florida
(813) 844-5667 or (813) 844-5650 or (800) 844-9302
National Kidney Registry
Heather Francis is a correspondent for Hernando Today. She can be reached at toheatherfrancis (at) gmail.com.