Photo: Cassandra Day / Hearst Connecticut Media
MIDDLETOWN — When Ann Smith learned her good friend’s adult son, who has suffered from kidney disease for 23 years, had an organ failure that has left him with 3 percent functionality and needing a transplant, she didn’t hesitate to get tested.
“If you can give somebody something they need, why wouldn’t you do it? It was a no-brainer to me. And a kidney: You’ve got two, you can share one,” said Smith, 62, who works on programming and community engagement at Russell Library in Middletown.
She met Alan Dougherty, 43, a Meriden musician who has polycystic kidney disease, something he inherited from his father. His grandmother also had the condition.
“I thought I wouldn’t see symptoms for another 10 years. But it’s reared its ugly head,” said Dougherty, who undergoes peritoneal dialysis every night, a treatment that uses the lining of the abdomen to filter blood inside the body, according to The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
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His painful symptoms began to appear two years ago, when he discovered blood in his urine.
“I’m able to have some semblance of a normal day. It gently runs while I’m asleep,” said Dougherty, who manages to maintain a “good amount of energy” with his daily regimen.
Dougherty and his wife, Kim, have a 3-year-old daughter, McCarthy.
In 2000, his mother donated her kidney to his now 70-year-old father. It turned out she was an “incredibly rare” match, Dougherty said.
As long as his father keeps taking his medication, he won’t require dialysis.
More than 114,000 people in the United States are waiting for an organ transplant, according to Yale New Haven Hospital. In 2017, more than 6,000 kidney and liver transplants were made possible by living donors.
“Eight months into the process, and then they turned me down,” Smith said of Hartford Hospital’s program.
She has lived with a chronic spinal issue for years, and alleviates the pain through an implanted device that delivers narcotics into her bloodstream.
“I thought I was good to go, then they decided I was frail. That was devastating. I thought we were there. I thought we had overcome every obstacle.
“I’m not frail,” she insisted. “I have received blood transfusions and bone grafts, and I wouldn’t be walking today had I not received donations of bone grafts from strangers” for her back condition.
Smith said her thought was she could spare a kidney for someone who desperately needs it.
“I’m old, relatively speaking. I’m not going to use mine much longer. I’m not 15, and I’m not going to need that kidney, and I’m not sky diving. What would damage the one that I have left?”
Her “consolation prize,” as she calls it, was she is organizing an information session Sept. 20 at the library. Representatives from organizations covering all aspects of organ donation will attend, including BeTheMatch, Donate Life Connecticut, New England Donor Services and the Hartford Hospital Transplant Department.
Dougherty needs a donor match with Type O blood. He is overjoyed to report he got a call Thursday from Hartford Hospital staff, telling him he’s approved for their donor waiting list.
“After all this time, it’s amazing,” he said.
Dougherty’s situation is urgent, he said, which makes him all the more concerned about being around to see his daughter grow up.
“It means the world to me — to be able to think of her not having a dad anytime before graduation is …, ” his voice trailing off.
Kidneys in a healthy person are fist-size. His are the size of two footballs.
Smith wants to dispel misconceptions associated with being a donor.
“I hear from so many people: ‘If I give one of my kidneys, what happens if I then have a problem?’ The chances are small to start with. The process to getting to transplant is long,” Smith said.
Middletown’s Mayor Dan Drew, who donated his kidney to lifelong Middletown resident and mother Olivia DiMauro in summer 2016 is among the speakers.
“The good we can initiate by offering for donation organs and tissues that can no longer sustain the lives of those who first used them, is so profound it brings tears to my eyes,” Smith said.
Thirty years ago, she donated the organs of her infant son “who was born with birth defects so massive they were incompatible with life.
“Twenty eight years later, one of my granddaughters was born with undetected heart defects, and spent months in the NICU teetering on the edge of needing a heart transplant.
“The donor process is stringent. They’re not taking kidneys from people whose health is in any way questionable, and there’s a prolonged process, which includes a psychiatric evaluation,” she said.
“Is your family supportive? Can you support yourself financially through the process of recovery? Is someone bribing you or pressuring you?” are some of the questions prospective donors are asked.
New England residents may register to be an organ donor online at Donate Life New England, donatelifenewengland.org. Others can visit Donate Life America at donatelife.net. Also, anyone can express a wish to become a donor when receiving or renewing a driver’s license at the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
The donor information program will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 20 in the Hubbard Room at Russell Library. at 123 Broad St. For information, visit russelllibrary.org or call 860-347-2520.
Managing Editor Cassandra Day can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @cassandrasdis.