Husband and wife.
By Brianna Wilson and Tom Szymanski

Woman Gives the Gift of Life to Husband Through Kidney Donation at UNM Hospital

What are the odds that you could be an organ match for your love match?

Lisa and Jeffrey Schnapp sat next to each other in matching sweatshirts that read, “Perfect Match.” Just two weeks post-op from kidney surgery at The University of New Mexico Hospital, the couple held hands and beamed at each other as they looked back on the first time they met. 

“Jeffrey's a chiropractor,” Lisa said. “My dad needed to go in, I went in with him, and that was how it began. We became best friends and married in 2021.”

The couple said they learned early on in their relationship that they could not live without each other, but they were about to learn just how true that was.

Shortly after celebrating their first wedding anniversary in August 2022, Jeffrey was diagnosed with end stage kidney disease. 

“We had zero idea,” Lisa said. “It snuck up on us from left field.”

“I was in denial somewhat,” Jeffrey said. “How can this actually be true? My blood pressure was a problem, but I felt okay. It wasn't until I got the biopsy report that showed that 85% of my kidneys were scarred over, and there was no coming back from that.”

Jeffrey was determined to make a comeback anyway, and Lisa was willing to give anything to help her husband reach that goal. So, she did.

After a full year of testing, in August 2023, Jeffrey was placed on the kidney transplant list.

“It is discouraging, it is time consuming” said Kammi Rodriguez, MSN, RN, the listed coordinator for UNM Hospital.

Rodriguez works with the organ recipients from the time they are added to the transplant list, until they receive a transplant. Sadly, some of her patients never do.

“Right now, the average wait time in New Mexico is five to seven years once you're listed, and that can look like five to seven years of dialysis ahead of you before you get an offer,” Rodriguez explained. “Sometimes you get offers and you get sent home; changes in your health occur and that makes all the difference.”

Soon after Jeffrey was placed on the list, he and Lisa jumped into action, determined to move the process along as quickly as possible. Lisa did not hesitate to test and see if she could be a living kidney donor. It turned out, she was a 50 percent match for Jeffrey--not a perfect match, but a perfectly acceptable one. 

“It's almost unheard of,” Jeffrey said. “I had hope then.”

Because Jeffrey was so sick, the doctors’ next big challenge was keeping him healthy enough to receive Lisa’s spare kidney. Fortunately, three months later on January 17, 2024, the couple went into surgery together. 

“I went in first,” Lisa said. “They took my kidney. They walked it right across the hall, and they gave it to Jeffrey.”

Lara Stagg, RN, is the living donor coordinator for UNM Hospital. She worked closely with Lisa on her donation preparation. She said, currently, there are more than 100,000 people on the national transplant waiting list. 

“There's another person added to the transplant waiting list every eight minutes,” she said. “Eighty-five percent of the people on the transplant waiting list are waiting for a kidney.”

According to Donate Life America, 17 people die each day waiting for an organ transplant. Stagg said living donation is one of the best treatments for kidney disease because living donor kidneys last about 50% longer than deceased donor kidneys, on average.

“Living donations can make a huge difference to these people,” Stagg said. “They can not only shorten their wait time, but they can help the next person on the waitlist for a kidney, who is behind them. We can sometimes get them transplanted before they even start dialysis, which was the case with Jeffrey.”

“Our doctors are saying we're ahead of the curve and they’re very pleased how well my body is accepting the medication, accepting the kidney,” Jeffrey said. “Things are moving along really well, and everybody’s excited about it, including us.”

Learn About Living Organ Donation

Credit: Donate Life America

  • Living organ donation and transplantation was developed as a direct result of the critical shortage of deceased donors.
  • Living donation is an opportunity to save a life while you are still alive.
  • Living donors don’t have to be related to their recipients. On average, 1 in 4 living donors are not biologically related to the recipient.
  • Patients who receive a living donor transplant are removed from the national transplant waiting list, making the gift of a deceased donor kidney or liver available for someone else in need.

Read more here

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