2006.04.10: April 10, 2006: Headlines: Service: Kidney Donation: Medicine: Joliet Herald News: RPCV Patricia Donahue donates kidney so her student can live

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Peace Corps Library: Medicine: January 23, 2005: Index: PCOL Exclusive: Medicine : 2006.04.10: April 10, 2006: Headlines: Service: Kidney Donation: Medicine: Joliet Herald News: RPCV Patricia Donahue donates kidney so her student can live

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RPCV Patricia Donahue donates kidney so her student can live

RPCV Patricia Donahue donates kidney so her student can live

The moment she heard that his mother's kidney couldn't save Brandon, the former Peace Corps member, who continues to volunteer every summer to help build homes for the poor in the Appalachian Mountains, decided to get herself tested. Perhaps she would be a suitable donor for the boy she met just three months earlier. In March, the teacher learned she was a perfect match. After sharing the news and a few tears of joy with a few of her colleagues, Donahue drove to Brandon's home, balloons in hand, to offer him her kidney.

RPCV Patricia Donahue donates kidney so her student can live

Match made in school

A seriously ill New Lenox boy and a caring teacher are learning a lesson in life

Caption: Patricia Donahue, a fourth-grade teacher, helps Brandon Shafer (center), 10, and Ian Mashek 11, use a laptop computer at Oster-Oakview School in New Lenox. Brandon, ailing from polycystic kidney disease, is to receive a kidney transplant from Donahue next month. Photo: Liz Wilkinson Allen

Brandon Shafer plays video games, shoots hoops with his friends and rags on his older sister, Kimra.

Such is the life of a 10-year-old boy.

Like other 10-year-olds, he goes to school. He dreams of playing pro basketball. He fantasizes about what he'll be when he grows up.

There, the similarities end.

To live like other 10-year-olds, he needs a gift few can offer.

When Nandy Shafer learned two years ago that her son suffered polycystic kidney disease and would need a kidney transplant to survive, she volunteered one of her own healthy organs.

The New Lenox woman was devastated to learn in late November that she was an unsuitable donor. Her organs couldn't be used to save Brandon. He was placed on a waiting list for a new kidney.

More than a year and a half could pass, doctors told her, before a suitable donor was found.

Little did the Shafers know that the kidney they needed could be found at the head of Brandon's fourth-grade classroom.

When Principal Jacqueline Miller searches for someone new to join her "family" of teachers at Oster-Oakview School in New Lenox, she always tried to find the most kind, caring and compassionate candidates.

She sensed that Patricia Donahue, a 25-year-old New Lenox native who served in the Peace Corps, would be a perfect fit. She wrote such words as "compassionate," "energetic," "adventurous," and "fun-loving" in her interview notes, recording her first impression of Donahue.

Little did Miller know that Donahue would be a perfect match for Brandon, too.

Illness emerges

Born six weeks premature, Brandon was always a little small for his age. Not until he was 8 did his mom learn the true reason for her son's stunted growth.

In December 2003, after battling what appeared to be the flu, Brandon complained about pain in his belly. Nandy called 911 after noticing her son's belly was distended further than usual.

At the hospital, doctors diagnosed polycystic kidney disease. Cysts were growing on the 8-year-old's organs, increasing their size and reducing their function. The disease also had enlarged Brandon's liver and spleen. He suffered from chronic renal failure.

In January 2004, the family was told Brandon would need a kidney transplant.

Nandy immediately volunteered one of hers. After a battery of tests, doctors told her in November that her kidneys weren't viable. They were only functioning at 76 percent of normal.

Brandon was counting on receiving his mother's kidney.

Nandy was reluctant to subject Brandon's 12-year-old sister, Kimra, to the tests. Brandon's father, who lives in Chatsworth, was considered too old to donate a kidney.

Donahue, in her first year teaching, sensed something was wrong when the usually perky Brandon showed up to class in late November with a long face.

As the solemn fourth-grader passed his teacher in the hallway, he quietly told her the news.

"My mom's not a match," he said.

A teacher's bond

Donahue, thrilled to be teaching in her hometown, had bonded immediately with her students. She felt for Brandon and shared the boy's predicament with her colleagues.

The moment she heard that his mother's kidney couldn't save Brandon, the former Peace Corps member, who continues to volunteer every summer to help build homes for the poor in the Appalachian Mountains, decided to get herself tested. Perhaps she would be a suitable donor for the boy she met just three months earlier.

Donahue acquired the name of Brandon's doctor and got her blood tested. When the test showed she shared Brandon's blood type, she contacted Nandy to find out where she needed to go for the next series of tests an EKG, a chest X-ray and a dye test to see how the blood flows to the kidney.

Until she knew there was no doubt, she kept the results to herself.

"You don't want to get hopes up," Donahue explained.

In March, the teacher learned she was a perfect match.

After sharing the news and a few tears of joy with a few of her colleagues, Donahue drove to Brandon's home, balloons in hand, to offer him her kidney.

"We're a match," she told Brandon, as he answered the door.

The 10-year-old was speechless.

"I think he was more shocked to see teachers (in his house) than to hear I was a match," Donahue said.

The importance of the news didn't escape Nandy.

"I was like, 'Oh, my God,'" she said, explaining how disbelief and relief flooded over her as Donahue told them what she had done. "For someone to match that perfectly (is rare)."

Miller calls it something else.

"It's like divine intervention," the principal said.

Father's inspiration

Donahue never wavered in her decision, even when her own mother expressed reservations about the 25-year-old teacher going under the knife.

The young teacher's father provided inspiration.

Diagnosed with leukemia eight years ago, he benefited from a bone marrow transplant.

"We wouldn't have him (here today)," Donahue said, if it weren't for the transplant.

Miller believes the selfless teacher was sent to Oster-Oakview by a higher power.

"It was pure divine intervention that (brought) Brandon to Patricia's class," she said, explaining how she waffled between two candidates before selecting Donahue.

The teacher sees the hand of fate at work, too.

"There's a reason why he was placed in my class," Donahue said.

Student stays upbeat

The energetic boy bonded with his teacher as soon as he set foot in her classroom.

Asked to share his feelings about Donahue, Brandon shyly sinks into a chair and offers a simple, two-word assessment that says everything about the woman who's so giving of herself.

"She's nice."

The boy remains upbeat about his condition despite the monthly doctor visits and daily shots which Brandon administers himself.

"He doesn't complain," said Marsha Ridings, the school nurse who checks Brandon's blood pressure once a week.

High blood pressure is a side effect of polycystic kidney disease.

The fourth-grader's classmates didn't even know he was sick until his mother's employer, Francesca's Fortunato in Frankfort, hosted a fund-raising event for Brandon last November, Donahue said.

"He's the most upbeat kid," said Ridings, who has to rely on Donahue to send Brandon down to her office for his weekly blood pressure checks.

"He would avoid me if he could," she added.

The nurse is amazed by Brandon's energy.

"Somebody with a chronic illness could easily get down, depressed," she said. "But he's happy. He's smiley .... He never says he doesn't feel well."

Ready to play

Doctors have told the 4-foot-tall youngster, who dreams of becoming a professional basketball player, that he could grow 7 inches within a year of receiving a healthy kidney.

"He's nervous," said Nandy's fiance, Bart Loudermilk, "but he's ready to get on with it and start growing."

He's ready to go play, said his mom, and cease the daily injections.

"No more shots," said Brandon, who only must take anti-rejection medications (in pill form) twice a day following the surgery, which has been scheduled for May 1.

Donahue will undergo her procedure at Northwestern while Brandon will be at Children's Memorial Hospital. They both will have their own surgeon.

Miller is proud of the sacrifice Donahue is making for one of her students. "This is the best gift a teacher can give to any student," she said.

Catching on

Classmates are sympathetic.

One little girl went door to door collecting money for Brandon. She didn't even tell her mother what she was doing until she came home with more than $100, Nandy said.

Another student has offered to raise cash for Brandon by selling raffle tickets that would enable a winner to shave his shoulder-length hair. The locks will be donated to Locks of Love, an organization that makes hairpieces for children suffering from long-term medical hair loss.

"Brandon has endeared himself to our whole student body," said Miller, who is inspired by the children's efforts. "No matter how he's feeling, he's a real trooper."


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Story Source: Joliet Herald News

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