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A selfless gift makes two lives whole.

09/11/2013

Debbie Mitchell-Dozier, RN always knew she wanted to be a kidney donor. A Nephrology nurse for the past 20 years - the last eight at Tufts Medical Center’s Kidney and Blood Pressure Center - Mitchell-Dozier was well aware of the life-changing and life-saving effects of a new organ for patients with chronic kidney disease. Inspired by Chief of the Division of Nephrology Andrew Levey, MD, who donated a kidney to his wife in 2008 as part of a three-pair kidney exchange, Mitchell-Dozier began to move forward with her own donation process in 2009. However, she encountered a few health-related issues over the next few years, which forced her temporarily to put the plan for kidney donation on hold. But healthy again in 2012 and approaching her 50th birthday, Mitchell-Dozier began thinking once more about donating a kidney, when the right opportunity presented itself.

An Appeal for Help

Mitchell-Dozier is a long-time member of the Greater Love Tabernacle in Dorchester, where she serves as Health Ministry Coordinator. In March 2012, Pastor J. Kevin Harris of the Victory Tabernacle Baptist Church in Richmond, VA, came to Boston to deliver a series of guest speeches at Mitchell-Dozier’s church. At the end of his sermon, Harris revealed that he was in dire need of a new kidney. Diagnosed with kidney failure in 2005, Harris had been receiving dialysis three times per week since 2008 and had suffered several severe complications of the disease. Mitchell-Dozier was touched by his appeal, and immediately knew that this was the person to whom she wanted to donate her kidney.

“I thought about the impact my gift would have on Pastor Harris, his family and his community,” said Mitchell-Dozier. “It was an opportunity to change so many lives for the better. It all became so clear to me that this was the right time, place and person to make the donation a reality.”

A Lucky Match

Fortunately, Mitchell-Dozier’s blood and tissue types were a good match for Harris. Over the next year, Harris went through a rigorous organ recipient preparation process - which included losing 70 pounds - to prepare for the transplant surgery. Arrangements were made to have the procedure at Virginia Transplant Center in Richmond, so Harris could recover close to his wife and seven-year-old son. Mitchell-Dozier traveled to Richmond on July 9 and underwent successful transplant surgery the following day.

“The whole experience was so smooth. It really blew me away that there was not one road block for the donation to go forward,” said Mitchell-Dozier. “There were definitely some nerves along the way, but reminding myself why I was donating a kidney helped with my confidence and resolve to see the process through. In the end, I couldn’t imagine having a more rewarding or fulfilling experience.”

Recovery and Thanks

Mitchell-Dozier was hospitalized for five days, then received a week and a half of outpatient follow-up care in Richmond.  She returned to Boston on July 22 and was back at work on August 19. Thanks to Tufts MC’s new Live Organ Donor Leave Policy, Mitchell-Dozier didn’t need to go on short-term disability. The policy provides all regular, full- and part-time employees who work twenty or more hours per week, up to four weeks of paid leave for organ donation procedures and recovery. Mitchell-Dozier was the first Tufts MC employee to take advantage of the policy.

“My Tufts MC colleagues have had such a tremendous impact on me throughout my kidney donation process,” said Mitchell-Dozier. “They have provided me with incredible support before, during and after the donation. I couldn’t have done it without them and I can’t thank them enough.”

An Inspiration

Now back in her normal daily routine, Mitchell-Dozier hopes that her story will serve as encouragement to anyone thinking about becoming a kidney donor or to patients on dialysis who are hesitant about soliciting help in finding a kidney donor. As she learned firsthand, the organ recipient isn’t the only person whose life is changed by the experience.

“Kidney donation is a gift not only for the recipient, who can be restored to good health, but also for the donor, who can fulfill a personal sense of obligation to help someone in need,” said Chief of the Division of Nephrology Andrew S. Levey, MD.  “All of us at Tufts MC should be proud to have a co-worker who goes so far above and beyond her professional responsibilities to make a tangible, long-lasting impact on people’s lives.”