While Karen DiLella waited to discover who among her friends and family members might be a match for the kidney transplant she desperately needed, her son, Danny, seemed confident that the match would be Karen’s best friend, LuAnn Sweeney. After a phone call from Saint Barnabas confirmed the match, Danny said, “I knew it was going to be Aunt Lu Lu!”
Neither an aunt nor a sister, LuAnn has achieved the honorary status of family member among the DiLellas. On October 26, 1999, Lu Ann donated one of her kidneys to Karen, her friend of 23 years. Over the summer, physicians had told Karen that her kidneys were failing as a result of the same disease––polycystic kidneys––that had killed her father. With the help of a new organ, Karen was given a second chance at life.
“She has always been like a sister to me,” says LuAnn of her friend. “People come and go in your life, but there was some reason why God made us friends and why we stayed close for so many years.”
The surgery was a success and the transplanted organ began to function immediately, processing eight liters of urine in the first 24 hours. Karen’s hospital stay lasted just four days and she was then able to return home to her family.
After meeting as fellow employees at Sears Department Store in Watchung, Karen and LuAnn’s friendship continued through years of raising children and taking shared vacations. Early on when LuAnn discovered the way that Karen’s father had lived his last years, she offered to donate her kidney if it was ever needed. The kidney donation has given her friend a very different life than the one she was heading toward.
“My father was at the hospital every day and our family practically lived there,” recalls Karen. “I didn’t want to be on dialysis after seeing what my father went through. LuAnn gave me the gift of life and she didn’t think twice about it.”
If immediate family members are unable to donate, kidneys for transplant can also come from living- unrelated or emotionally-related donors. The most common emotionally-related donor is a spouse. Successful outcomes with spousal transplants are related in part to the immune tolerance that seems to develop between husbands and wives.
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