March 3, 2000
rises above and beyond the call of duty to help co-worker
Jane Burleson, RN, a nurse on Blake 13, is the kind of colleague that every MGHer wants. She's intelligent and animated; kind and concerned about others; a team player. And last year she went beyond the call of duty as a co-worker when she donated her kidney to Maria LoDuca, MSW, a social worker on her unit.
LoDuca was suffering from polycystic kidney disease, which causes hypertension and renal failure. She continued to work, despite the fact that her kidneys were operating at 16 percent of normal function. She needed a kidney transplant. One of her closest friends was found to be a match, but unfortunately she was diagnosed with hypertension during the testing process and was ruled out as a possible donor. LoDuca's condition worsened, and she feared that she would have to begin dialysis.
In the winter of 1999, Nina Tolkoff-Rubin, MD, of the MGH Renal Unit, LoDuca's nephrologist, called LoDuca into her office. "I thought Dr. Rubin wanted to talk to me about the process of beginning dialysis, but instead she informed me that someone had come forward and was a match." When Rubin told her that Burleson was a match, LoDuca was stunned. "I couldn't imagine what to say to Jane," says LoDuca. "All I could manage was 'So, I just saw Dr. Rubin.' " Burleson describes the next moments like a scene from a movie. "Everything around us faded away, and instantly we were zoomed in together. When finally we were alone, we hugged and cried together," she says.
Maria LoDuca, left, and Jane Burleson
That was the beginning of their journey through the organ donation process. Although Burleson was technically a match for LoDuca, she needed to undergo more tests to determine if she could be a donor. She was required to have an EKG, chest X-ray, psychiatric evaluation, a special CT scan and an arteriogram a test in which a catheter is inserted into the femoral artery in the groin and a dye is injected to view the blood vessels of the kidneys to determine which kidney will be used. While in recovery from the arteriogram, Burleson was told she had fibromuscular dysplasia (FMD) — a condition that could cause stroke or hypertension if she were to donate her kidney — and she was ruled out as a donor. "When I heard this, I broke down and sobbed from some place in my heart that I didn't know existed. I didn't know how badly I wanted to do this until someone took it away from me," she says.
Burleson was convinced that she did not have FMD and began to research the disease to prove it. Three days later she called Rubin to tell her that she still wanted to donate her kidney. Five out of the seven MGH vascular specialists who looked at the results of the arteriogram decided that the diagnosis was questionable enough to let Burleson proceed under one condition: Burleson would have to undergo open exploratory surgery, led by Dicken Ko, MD, of MGH Transplant Surgery, during which Ben Cosimi, MD, chief of Transplant Surgery, would determine if it was safe to proceed. Burleson agreed.
On the day of the surgery, Burleson and LoDuca went into adjoining operating rooms, not knowing what the outcome would be. LoDuca told Burleson "no matter what happens, you've already given me so much." Burleson said that those parting words gave her the strength to proceed.
"I remember being in recovery and pulling myself out of the anesthesia to find out what had happened," says Burleson. The operation was a complete success. "I cried with joy when one of the doctors told me that Maria was doing well," she says.
LoDuca remembers feeling better from the moment she awoke after the operation, which was performed by Francis Delmonico, MD, of Transplant Surgery. "It was like I was a baby being born again," she says.
LoDuca and Burleson were out of work for three months and six weeks respectively. Friends and co-workers were supportive in the weeks and months that followed the transplant. Colleagues sent over food, arranged for their homes to be cleaned and even donated earned time to each of them.
"People's first reaction, when they hear our story, is to cry," says LoDuca. She has returned to work on Blake 13 and is living life fully. "If you don't believe in miracles, you should, because a miracle happened to me," she says.
Burleson has made a full recovery as well. "Although you give the gift of life, as a donor you also get the gift of life. I feel honored that God gave me the opportunity to do this for Maria," she says. "I knew I was a match before they even drew one drop of blood. I just knew it from somewhere deep inside me."
For more information about organ donation, call (800) 446-6362.
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