When Colleen O’Leary started to feel unwell, she knew something was not right. She felt sluggish, sick, and totally off. At just 32 years old, visited her doctor who ran some routine tests. Colleen’s bloodwork came back normal – a relief! But her urine test, however, could not be overlooked. It was abnormal, and Colleen was referred to a specialist.
The specialist diagnosed Colleen with Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD), but assured her that she likely had 10-15 years before treatment would be necessary. Something just didn’t sit right with her, so Colleen turned to Tufts Medical Center for a second opinion.
Finding hope at Tufts MC
In early December 2014, Colleen met with Andrew Levey, MD, Chief of Nephrology at Tufts Medical Center. He explained to her that CKD could go into “dormancy”, but pick back up at any time. Given the uncertainty, Dr. Levey and his team wanted to ensure Colleen that she had options.
“The diagnosis still hit like a ton of bricks,” said Colleen. “But the thing that I loved about Tufts MC is that they laid out a plan for me from the get go. I just remember feeling like - wow - these people really do pay attention and they really do care.”
Colleen recalls many questions circling in her mind, like what is dialysis? What are the different types of transplants? What is the best option that fits my needs? She was overwhelmed, but the team at Tufts MC welcomed her with open arms and offered immediate support. Once Colleen was able to process all of this new information, one thing was for sure: she knew she didn’t want to undergo dialysis. She wanted to explore the Living Donor option.
Colleen was surprised at how quickly word of her diagnosis and need for a transplant traveled amongst her circle. “I had talked to some friends, and a few of them had agreed to go through with the testing to see if they could be a match for me,” she said.
“The heartbreaking thing is having a friend go through all of the testing, and at the last step being told that they can’t donate.” Colleen was finding it hard to stay hopeful.
And that is where Kim came in.
The search for a donor
Colleen and Kim both played competitive softball, and during the summer of 2018, their paths began to cross more often than usual.
“Coll and I knew of each other through friends, but our circles did not intermingle much,” Kim explained. “That summer, our teams played against one another a lot.”
By the fall, a mutual interest formed between the two. It was during that time that Colleen shared details of her kidney disease with Kim.
“I knew that she wasn’t well, and I could sense that it was something serious. But I wasn’t sure what it was,” Kim said. Out of the blue one night, Kim asked about the living donation process. “I thought to myself, I’ve always been an organ donor. I wanted to do it because I knew Colleen was sick, I knew I was healthy and I knew that I could help.”
Kim contacted Tufts MC to begin the screening process, and eventually the subsequent tests. “They really educated me along the whole way, and assured me that living a long, productive life is possible with one kidney,” she recalls. “At that point, I was with Colleen often, seeing her body fall apart and shut down on her.”
February 2019: It’s a match
Kim, a high school teacher, received a call from the Tufts MC team right before February school break. They told her it was a go, she was a match! At this point, their relationship had continued to grow stronger, but Colleen’s condition had also begun to worsen. Her kidneys were starting to fail. Though a transplant seemed like a real possibility now, dialysis was her only immediate option.
“It was heartbreaking, because it was the one thing she did not want,” Kim recalls.
Colleen began dialysis, undergoing treatment three times per week for the final month leading up to her surgery. However, she kept her focus on the light at the end of the tunnel.
The start of a new beginning
The highly anticipated transplant day had arrived: March 26, 2019. Colleen and Kim had spent the night before at a nearby hotel, and arrived at the medical center early that morning. Both of their operations went off without a hitch. Kim recalls waking up from surgery, and wanting to see Colleen as soon as she could.
After four days in the hospital, Kim and Colleen were discharged together. Though Colleen recalls an almost “immediate feeling” of feeling better, recovery was a big hurdle for the both of them. Six weeks after surgery, Kim returned to her classroom to finish out the school year. After another six weeks passed, both ladies passed their post-operative check up with flying colors and were back on the softball field.
Today, Colleen is grateful. “It took a full two years for me to get to where I am, it’s like night and day. These things I’ve wanted to do and try, they’re all within reach.”
Both Kim and Colleen are still playing competitive softball -- now on the same semi-professional team -- The Swingin’ Chickens.
When asked about Living Donation, Kim shared these thoughts: “If you have the ability to donate and you are healthy, I would hope that you would consider it. I wouldn’t have known that this was an option had I not run into Colleen that day and heard her story.”
Learn more about becoming a living donor >