The Greatest Gift: Living Organ Donor Visits with Rotary

on Friday, 04 September 2015. Posted in Recent Programs

Program Recap: Sept. 2, 2015

The Greatest Gift: Living Organ Donor Visits with Rotary

Living kidney donor Rhonnie Leder joined Cashiers Rotary to share her moving story of how she and her family were both the givers and recipients of the ultimate gift of life.

In 2005, Rhonnie’s husband Sam fell desperately ill and needed a kidney transplant. The Leders were heartbroken to learn that no one in the immediate family was a match. Facing the prospect of Sam sitting on an organ donation waiting list for three years or more, Rhonnie took the proactive measure of writing a letter to the editor of the Crossroads Chronicle. She received six responses, including that of a 32-year-old Cashiers area mother of two who would ultimately become the living kidney donor that would save Sam’s life.

Following this experience, Rhonnie became an active member of the living donor community. She educated herself and others about the emotional aspects involved and joined a support group for organ donors, recipients and their families. In 2011, after meeting a man at the support group who was in need of a kidney transplant, Rhonnie decided to pass on the gift of life she and her family had been given. 

“It was a conscious and soul-searching decision,” she said, but one she didn’t hesitate in making. 

The transplant took place on April 7th, 2011. Eight days later, Rhonnie attended her son’s 40th birthday party. 

“There are a bunch of myths about living organ donation,” Rhonnie told the audience. “Most of them are false, and that’s why I’m here today.”

As a retired elementary school teacher, Rhonnie knew the only way to debunk these myths was to educate people about them. “Today, they do the procedure laparoscopically, so it’s just keyhole incisions,” she said. “And there’s no life-long medication plan following a donation.”

The biggest myth, though, stems from a lack of knowledge about the role of the kidney. Though most people have two kidneys, you only need one to live, and not a whole one at that. Bill Mobley, a retired urologist who was in the audience, added that a person can live an active life without dialysis with as little as one-half of one healthy, functioning kidney. In fact, many people are born with only one kidney and never know it until they have an x-ray or some other medical procedure done.

As for who’s a good candidate, Rhonnie — who was over 60 when she donated — said there are general health guidelines, but no hard and fast rules. “If you feel this is something you’d like to do,” she said, “don’t think you’re too old or not in shape. You just need to be healthy and it doesn’t hurt to try.” 

Since her experience Rhonnie has become a tireless advocate for organ donation, and she and Sam are living testaments to the fact that organ donors and recipients go on to live healthy, enriched lives.

For more information on organ donation or how to become an organ donor, please visit the US Department of Health & Human Services website at www.organdonor.gov or the American Transplant Foundation at www.americantransplantfoundation.org.