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Why would someone donate a kidney to a person they don’t even know? It’s a question that living kidney donor Joy Julian has a ready answer for. “I felt it was the right thing to do,” the 27-year-old says about donating her kidney to 53-year-old father of four Mike Grimes through a paired kidney exchange four years ago.
It started when Joy saw a post about Mike’s need for a kidney donor on Facebook shared by someone she went to high school with. Even though she didn’t know Mike, it turned out they were neighbors. Mike had his first kidney transplant in 2012 when he was diagnosed with kidney failure caused by damage that diabetes had done to his kidneys. Unfortunately, his body rejected the new kidney a month after his first transplant.
The search for a donor began again in 2019 when Mike was almost to the point of needing to start dialysis. After undergoing a donor evaluation at MedStar Georgetown, Joy learned she was a match for Mike, but after additional cross match testing, Jennifer Verbesey, MD, director of the Living Donor Kidney Transplant program at the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute, advised Joy and Mike that a paired kidney exchange or kidney swap (where Joy’s kidney would go to another person on the transplant waitlist and Mike would receive a kidney from a different donor) would provide Mike with the best matched kidney possible and a better outcome.
Joy says her donation surgery in August 2019 was a positive experience. “Dr. Verbesey made me feel like I was her own daughter,” she says. “She sat with me before my surgery, made sure I was comfortable, and answered all my questions. I went into the operating room with no fears.” After two and half weeks, she was back to work part time and within six months she was 100% back to normal. Joy’s kidney went to a young man in Virginia and they’ve kept in touch since his successful transplant.
Mike had his transplant surgery the following month. “After my first transplant, I was in a lot of pain. This time I was up and walking without pain the day after my transplant,” Mike says, who has been healthy and doing well ever since.
Mike and Joy stay in touch, talking or visiting at least once a week. He is extremely grateful for Joy’s gift of life. “Joy is one of the most unselfish people I’ve ever met,” Mike says. “She is an angel on earth and she saved my life.”
Joy has become a vocal advocate for living kidney donation and has walked several people through the donation process, sharing her positive experience. Her advice? “If you’re considering becoming a donor, talk to someone who’s done it. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made and it’s so humbling to be able to actually save a life. I wish I had 100 kidneys to give.”