Donna Mullin of Shepherd, Montana, is 60 years old and has recently completed her second kidney transplant checkup at the University of Washington. Everything looks excellent. For as long as she can remember she was always told that “folks in our family just don’t live very long, as kidney disease runs in the family.” That disease is polycystic kidney disease (PKD) and is hereditary. Many members of Donna’s family have been diagnosed. Her grandmother and father both lost the fight, her sister also suffers from the disease, and her oldest son is in a five-year clinical study for PKD.
At 54 years old, Donna was in the fifth stage of renal failure. Her kidney function was at just 9 percent, and she was placed on the transplant waiting list.
“During this time, our sons were never far from my thoughts,” Donna said.
Donna and her family were familiar with the donation and transplantation process. In 1995, her two sons, Brian and Ben, were involved in a car accident during their annual spring break trip. Ben passed away a month after the accident, and Brian one month after that. Donna and her family expressed interest in donation in order to spare another family the grief they were experiencing. Both boys were able to donate their corneas, and Brian was able to donate tissue.
A few months later, Donna received letters from her sons’ cornea recipients.
“We were fortunate to receive initial thank you letters from Troy (19 years old) and Nick (33 years old) and continue to hear from them yearly. Communication with these men has filled me with happiness and comfort.”
After three years on the waiting list and four false alarms, Donna finally got the call that would forever change her life. When she awoke from surgery with a new kidney, she couldn’t help but think of her donor family, and the pain she knew they were experiencing.
In April 2012, LifeCenter Northwest received a letter from the mother of Donna’s donor, Maria, and soon after Donna was on her way to Washington State to meet with the family of Dulce, the 16-year-old girl who saved her life.
“On May 3, 2012, I went to visit Maria, her adult sons, and daughters-in-law for supper. I knew the journey they were going through. It is overwhelming, all-consuming, and more painful than can be imagined. My husband and I have been on that journey since 1995 and when it began we could not imagine living through it. But here we were 17 years later plus the miracle of a kidney transplant. I had not expected to feel joy again.”
Donna was able to help Maria through the pain she knew too well: the pain of losing a child. “Our visit was mixed with tears, smiles, and laughter. Maria said to me, ‘Because a piece of Dulce is in me’ she considers me a part of her family, and welcomed me to their dinner table. After we parted I felt like I was going to float up and burst like a balloon I was so happy!”