How a stranger’s donation saved a Georgia woman’s life

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COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) — When Piedmont Columbus Regional recently raised a flag at 1:08 p.m. to highlight the importance of organ donation, the timing was intentional. It represented the impact one donor can have on up to eight people.

One of those present at the ceremony was Pat McDougall, IT project manager at Piedmont. McDougall understands this impact more than most.

In 2018, McDougall felt completely healthy. She went to the gym several times a week and took a spinning class. But in April, she fell and broke her arm. In the emergency room, she was told she would need surgery.


Doctors were concerned about his blood tests before his operation, but worried about the impact of anesthesia. The operation was delayed and over the weekend McDougall became extremely ill. Over the next six weeks, she underwent tests and her body began to swell heavily as her condition worsened.

After six weeks of tests, McDougall’s doctor informed her that she had stage 5 kidney failure. An autoimmune disease she had on her feet 15 years ago had returned and destroyed both of her kidneys in some months.

“I DID NOT KNOW HOW LONG I WOULD LIVE”

For the next six months, McDougall continued to work full-time at Piedmont despite his very poor health. During this time, she went back and forth to the hospital, undergoing numerous surgeries that saved her life.

McDougall was put on emergency dialysis after doctors failed to find her blood pressure.

Her first grandchild, Hunter, was born on August 5, 2018, but due to an infection McDougall couldn’t hold him. She could be in the room with Hunter, but she couldn’t touch him and had to wear a mask.

“I didn’t know how long I would live,” McDougall said. “I didn’t know if I was going to see him celebrate his first birthday or his second birthday.”

McDougall continued dialysis for about five hours, three days a week. She had nine life-threatening events and spent 105 days in hospital over 10 months.

An Atlanta doctor told her she needed a transplant. Initially, the thought of having a kidney transplant scared her, McDougall said, and she couldn’t even say the word out loud.

Her son, Shane McDougall, a self-proclaimed realist, gave her the tough love she needed to get her to seek a kidney transplant.

There are 109,000 people waiting for organ transplants nationwide, according to LifeLink of Georgia, and more than 4,700 of them are Georgian.

People with high blood pressure or other conditions won’t be approved because they won’t be able to operate the new kidney, she said. Typically, the approval process takes about one to three months. Due to setbacks, it took McDougall 11 months to be approved.

“Every day I’m like, ‘God, I must have a kidney,'” she said.

“YOU CANNOT GO TO WALMART AND BUY A KIDNEY”

In early 2020, a committee met to decide if McDougall would be approved for a kidney transplant.

Either they say yes, and she cries.

Or they would say no, and she would cry.

The phone rang mid-morning as McDougall tried to keep busy at work.

“You’re approved,” said the transplant coordinator. “But there are these conditions.”

McDougall could get a kidney transplant, but the kidney had to come from a living donor, which is statistically more likely to be successful. The transplant also had to be performed within a year.

“You can’t go to Walmart and buy (a kidney),” McDougall said. “And nobody’s standing around the corner saying, ‘Hey, let me give you my kidney. “”

Shane, who also works in Piedmont, walked into her office just after hanging up the phone.

She told him the news, he cried and told her to be happy. People take every day given to them for granted, Shane said, and they don’t realize until they’re battling something like kidney failure or another illness how quickly loved ones can be taken away.

“So when you’re given another day or another chance at another day,” he said. “It’s always a blessing and an opportunity to see him in a different light.”

“BY FACT, MY NAME IS LIBBY”

McDougall put her faith in God that she would be able to find a living donor.

“I knew I had to post my story on social media,” she said.

Four days after being approved, she wrote her story for a Facebook post. Some people knew what she had been through, but many of her colleagues and other members of her community had no idea. McDougall had been quiet about her health because she didn’t want people to think she was sick and treat her differently.

So she knew that once the message went live, everyone would know about this vulnerable part of her life. In the post, she wrote about her medical history, how she was feeling, her faith and her need for a life-saving transplant. At the bottom of the message, she put the number to call for anyone wishing to donate a kidney.

She posted the post on March 4, 2020, right at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Within a week, McDougall had 12,000 hits and over 100 comments.

Less than a week after posting her story on Facebook, someone privately messaged McDougall.

“Hey, today I saw your story,” the message read. “And I can’t get you out of my head. I called the number, and I hope we’re compatible.

For a moment, McDougall didn’t even have a name for this stranger who was willing to help. But a minute later, another message arrived.

“By the way, my name is Libby.”

“I AM COMMITTED FOR THIS”

Libby Green is a retired firefighter, paramedic and rescue operations specialist.

She came across McDougall’s post three times while browsing Facebook. Although the women did not know each other, they had mutual friends. The first few times the message appeared, Green prayed that the stranger would find the help she needed.

“She reappeared,” Green said. “I said, ‘Okay. I understand. I need to contact this woman.'”

From then on, Green let her faith guide her. She was going to do the lab work, and if it wasn’t meant to be, then they wouldn’t be compatible. A few days after the initial blood draw, she got a call saying it looked really good and they were optimistic Libby would be a match.

After the initial blood test, Green was given a “big box” with kits for more tests to make sure she was healthy enough to donate her kidney.

COVID-19 had started to spread across the country and Libby was asked to self-isolate as she needed to stay healthy for McDougall.

Eventually, Green got the call that she was not only a match for McDougall, but that the two women matched “like sisters”. Green was told first, to give him another chance to change his mind.

“I don’t really need to think about it,” Green told the coordinator. “I committed to it.”

They wore matching shirts to the hospital and Shane hugged his mother before it was time for her to come inside.

Both women underwent successful surgeries on June 19, 2020. McDougall’s new kidney immediately started working for her.

“And it was funny because this crazy thing is going up and down in my room,” Green said.

McDougall and her family started thanking Green for donating her a kidney and didn’t stop. Although McDougall considers her a heroine, Green doesn’t feel like it.

The whole reason for her donation was to help someone in need, she said. After her years as a first responder, she’s not used to praise. Helping people is in her nature, Green said.

“I did for years,” she said. “And that’s why I got into this business – to help people.”

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