Peters Township friends to serve as kidney donor, recipient in organ transplant
Talk about an offer she couldn’t refuse.
Still, Kristen Johnson thought about giving fellow Peters Township resident Sheila Coquet a chance to reconsider.
“I didn’t want her to think just because we were friends and we had the same blood type that she should feel obligated to donate a kidney to me,” Johnson said.
The offer stands, though, and on June 2, the two women will undergo surgery with UPMC’s kidney transplant team.
“I go in first, and alongside my operating room is her getting prepped in an OR,” Coquet said. “And after the removal of my kidney, the doctor explained, they’re by-the-second ready to put that kidney and watch it miraculously function in her.”
Blood drive details
The Friends in Faith blood drive is scheduled from noon to 7 p.m. June 1 in Room 308 of the Bible Chapel – South Hills, 300 Gallery Drive, Peters Township.
Although walk-ins are welcome, appointments are recommended for the blood drive to minimize wait time. Register online at centralbloodbank.org using group code G0450023, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 866-366-6771. You can also download Central Blood Bank’s blood donor mobile app.
Save time the day of the drive by completing the required health history through the bank’s DonorPass, also on the website. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that the online health history questionnaire be completed on the same day as your donation, beginning at 12:01 a.m.
To donate whole blood, you must be at least 18 (16- and 17-year-olds with signed parental consent form) and weigh at least 110 pounds.
Some 100,000 Americans are on waiting lists for new kidneys, often for five years or more because the demand for the vital organs exceeds the supply, usually from deceased donors.
Coquet, who works as volunteer manager at the City Mission in Washington, is listed as a donor on her driver’s license. But she hadn’t considered the possibility of doing so while she was alive until she learned that her friend was in need.
As a result, Johnson’s wait is far shorter than it would have been otherwise, and she is receiving her new organ under optimal circumstances.
“A living-donor kidney lasts longer, statistics show, than a deceased donor,” Coquet explained, “because of the benefit of how quickly it can be removed from me and be put into her.”
Johnson, who has a history of renal failure, first received a transplant more than two decades ago.
“They say that transplanted kidneys typically last 10 to 15 years,” she said. “So having it 22 years, I feel really blessed that the Lord has given me so many years with this kidney.”
She and Coquet met when their children were in second grade together at Bower Hill Elementary School. As their friendship developed, they discussed a variety of subjects, and at one point Coquet spoke about a friend who had died after receiving a liver transplant.
Johnson, in turn, revealed that she needed a kidney transplant. And that’s when her friend made the offer of, literally, a lifetime.
“I couldn’t believe when she asked me what my blood type was, and I told her what it was, and she said that was her blood type, too,” Johnson said. “So that sort of started the ball rolling into her wanting to get tested.”
Again, she had to ask Coquet if she was certain.
“I’ll never forget her words. It still brings tears to my eyes,” Johnson recalled. “She said to me, ‘I would be honored to go through this testing for you.’ And I think it was at that point I realized, oh, she’s really serious about doing this. And I just couldn’t believe that she would be willing to do that for me.”
Coquet subsequently went through two full days of determining whether such a procedure would work for both of the women.
“They told Sheila first that we were a match,” Johnson said. “And she came over to my house one night – this was in November – and she had a big cookie cake, and she had written on it, ‘We match.’”
Meanwhile, Johnson’s kidney function declined to the point where the transplant was necessary, and she and her friend were notified in early May that the time had come.
“As we were approaching our surgery date, there was a part of me saying, you can still do more to raise awareness,” Coquet said. “From that stemmed the idea of doing a blood drive.”
The idea is to help others, even if something of the magnitude of a kidney transplant is not possible.
“A lot of people look at me and say, ‘I could never do what you’re doing.’ I point up,” she said, referencing her faith, “but then I also say, ‘You could. You actually could.’”
The drive is scheduled for June 1 from noon to 7 p.m. at the Bible Chapel, 300 Gallery Drive, Peters Township.
“I’ve been in a situation, myself, where they had to wait to give me blood because it wasn’t available in the bank,” Coquet said. “There are people waiting constantly to get surgeries, to get blood products that match them.”
Of course, she has received plenty of inquiries about her upcoming surgery.
“People look at me and say, ‘You can live with one kidney?’” she said. “I sure can, and should live a great and comfortable life.”