Stevenson woman donates kidney to Michigan man

Recipient calls act 'very selfless thing'

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian Health Reporter

Published:

 

o 100,600: People currently in the U.S. waiting for kidney donations.

o 14,029: Kidney transplants taking place last year in the U.S. Of those, 9,314 transplants came from deceased donors and 4,715 came from living donors.

o 3,381: People waiting for a kidney transplant who died last year.

o Nearly 2,500: New patients added to the kidney waiting list each month.

o 14: People waiting for a life-saving kidney transplant who die each day, on average.

Source: National Kidney Foundation

For information about becoming an organ donor, visit the Donate Life Northwest website.

o 100,600: People currently in the U.S. waiting for kidney donations.

o 14,029: Kidney transplants taking place last year in the U.S. Of those, 9,314 transplants came from deceased donors and 4,715 came from living donors.

o 3,381: People waiting for a kidney transplant who died last year.

o Nearly 2,500: New patients added to the kidney waiting list each month.

o 14: People waiting for a life-saving kidney transplant who die each day, on average.

Source: National Kidney Foundation

Kia Calderon-Dillon traveled more than 2,000 miles to give away one of her organs. She made the trek from her home in Stevenson to Ann Arbor, Mich., for a man she met only a couple of months earlier on Facebook.

“I’ve just always done what I can to help people,” Calderon-Dillon said. “The chance of me needing both kidneys later is unlikely. If I can help somebody, why wouldn’t I?”

For information about becoming an organ donor, visit the Donate Life Northwest website.

Calderon-Dillon has for years donated blood, visiting the donor center every eight weeks. She gives her time, volunteering for the parent-teacher association at her sons’ school and for local political campaigns. The 28-year-old also has long had a desire to donate a kidney.

In May, the mother of three decided to start looking into the process for becoming a living donor.

She found a group on Facebook dedicated to kidney donors and recipients and posted a couple questions. A few people responded, some said they were looking for donors.

When Calderon-Dillon indicated her blood type was B-positive, Bharat Kharadia decided to speak up. He had the same blood type and his low level of antibodies meant they were nearly certain to be a match, Kharadia said.

The two began exchanging private messages; Calderon-Dillon wanted to learn more about Kharadia. Her only stipulation to donating was that her kidney went to someone who would take care of their body — and her organ.

Kharadia, 44, is a vegetarian. He’s never smoked. Never drank alcohol. He’s a marathon runner. At least, he was before he was diagnosed with kidney disease in 2010.

He continued to work full time as a manager at Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn, Mich., to support his family even as his health declined.

Kharadia has six children — three boys and three girls — ranging in age from 1 to 15, and his wife is pregnant with the couple’s seventh child.

“I’m a sucker for kids,” said Calderon-Dillon, who has three boys, ages 8, 6 and 2. “When he said he had six kids and wanted to be around for them, it was the kids that did it.”

End of a long wait

For Kharadia, the connection marked the end of a 2½-year wait for a kidney and his own months-long quest to find a living donor.

During an annual physical exam in 2010, Kharadia got a clean bill of health. He was in the midst of marathon training, and his doctor said Kharadia was his healthiest patient.

A few months later, Kharadia had his blood pressure checked as part of orientation at a new gym. It was through the roof.

Kharadia went to the hospital and learned his kidney function was only 48 percent.

Within a year, in November 2011, Kharadia’s kidney function was down to the single digits. He began dialysis.

But earlier this year, Kharadia noticed his health was declining.

He began to get more tired; he struggled to stay awake during his 140-mile round-trip commute to work. His legs grew more and more restless. He was feeling extra bloated from dialysis, which frequently caused him to want to vomit.

“This dialysis was slowly breaking my body down,” Kharadia said.

So, in February, Kharadia began his quest to find a donor. He spent 15 to 20 hours a week writing posts on Facebook, joining kidney donor groups, sharing his story on organ-match websites and asking everyone he knew to share his story.

In May, Kharadia came across Calderon-Dillon’s Facebook post. He reached out to her immediately.

“I did not have any reservations because I was basically in the mind-set of finding a donor,” he said. “I got tired of waiting on the list.”

Calderon-Dillon didn’t have reservations either.

“I didn’t know anybody in real life who needed a kidney,” she said. “I think that’s just the way the world works now. You need something, you find it on the Internet.”

Answering the call

In early July, Calderon-Dillon flew to Ann Arbor to undergo a battery of tests, exams and consultations at the University of Michigan Transplant Center. That was the first time she met Kharadia face-to-face.

A few days after that, Calderon-Dillon received a call to schedule surgery.

On July 29, Calderon-Dillon and her mom, Kim Calderon, rented a car and headed back to Ann Arbor. On Aug. 6, Calderon-Dillon and Kharadia underwent transplant surgery. The surgery went well for both.

Calderon-Dillon was released from the hospital a day after surgery. Within a couple days, she was off of pain medication and managed to do some sightseeing. Calderon-Dillon returned home to her husband and sons on Aug. 21, after her follow-up appointment with doctors.

Four days later, she started fall semester at Washington State University Vancouver, where she’s working toward a public affairs degree. She’s also taking WSU online courses for an economics degree.

She’s still somewhat limited in what she can do physically as her incision and body continue to heal. She can’t lift anything heavier than 10 pounds and has to wait another couple of weeks before she can resume running.

Kharadia’s insurance covered the cost of the donation process for both he and Calderon-Dillon. Kharadia paid out of pocket for all of Calderon-Dillon’s travel expenses.

Kharadia’s health improved dramatically after the surgery.

All of the dialysis side affects disappeared. His legs are no longer restless. He no longer suffers from sleep apnea.

The day after he was released from the hospital, Kharadia started a new exercise routine. He started with walking 2 miles. Now, he’s up to 4 miles.

In a few more weeks, Kharadia will be cleared to run. He hopes to slowly build up his mileage until he’s back to running 6 to 10 miles per day. Then, he plans to tackle another marathon.

“She did a tremendous thing, a very selfless thing,” Kharadia said of Calderon-Dillon. “I appreciate it very much. My heart will be full of gratitude for a very long time.”