Women reconnect through life-saving decision

100K waiting for kidney transplant across US

INDIANAPOLIS - A pair of women were reconnected after almost two decades apart through a life-saving decision.

On average, patients in Indiana spend between three and four years waiting for a kidney. Doctors told Doreen Lamar she would probably have to wait longer, but after a dozen surgeries and countless rounds of painful dialysis, she received a call that would change her life.

Hospitals are too familiar to Lamar. The Tell City native suffers from scoliosis. The last of 12 back surgeries went terribly wrong.

"I was in the hospital on a vent for 13 months. My kidneys got damaged there. Irreversible, so I was on dialysis from that point on," Lamar said.

A few doctors turned her down for a kidney transplant, fearing complications. But then she tried Indianapolis.

"I came to IU, and Dr. Goggins wasn't afraid. And from that point on, then I got listed," Lamar said.

Doctors told Lamar she could be on the waiting list for a kidney for five years. So Lamar started looking for a living donor on her own.

"I started getting ahold of newspapers, I had business cards and took them everywhere. Then I got on Facebook, everybody's on Facebook," Lamar said.

She sent a request to reconnect with an old acquaintance, Cathy Berger. The pair met two decades ago at a medical practice in Evansville, but had not talked in 18 years.

"I worked in the physical therapy department and she was a patient in there, and that's how I got to know her," Berger said.

Berger accepted the request and was surprised by the posts she found on Lamar’s page.

"I asked her what had happened, why she was posting all of this, and she proceeded to write me a book of what had happened in the last 18 years. And I read that, and I thought, that is horrible and I could probably do something about that," Berger said.

After talking with her family, she made a phone call that would change everything.

"All I could do was sit there and cry, because I finally found somebody," Lamar said.

After extensive testing, the two women went to the hospital for surgery on January 16, 2013. The transplant went smoothly and more than a year later, Lamar is enjoying what she calls a "new life."

About 1,000 people are still waiting for a kidney in Indiana hospitals. Indiana University Health transplant surgeon William Goggins said anyone can be tested, but only the healthiest can give.

"We only need one kidney to survive. We know there are people who are born with one kidney or one kidney was traumatically injured and taken out, and people have lived with one kidney," Goggins said.

Berger is living proof. She and Lamar said they will stay in touch.

"No one's ever done that much for me. I would still be waiting," Lamar said.

Goggins said the deceased donor pool is limited to about 16,000 kidneys per year. That’s compared to a need for about 100,000 throughout the country.

Goggins pointed out that recovery is quicker than it used to be -- through labroscopic surgery.

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