Social media today can sometimes seem to be one big ocean of negative energy, inspiring more deletes than “likes”. But if Sarah Ford hadn’t paid attention to a Facebook post in August 2016, she might not be where she is today–recovering from donating a kidney to someone who was then a complete stranger.
Ford, who moved to Verona from West Orange six years ago, was on Facebook when she saw a post from an old high school friend. He was a volunteer for the National Kidney Foundation and was sharing the story of a man who had a hereditary kidney disease and needed a transplant. “I read the story and I was really drawn to it,” Ford recalls thinking. “I’m almost 39, I’m healthy, I have beautiful children. I could give this guy his life back and I’ll be back to being the same person once I heal.” Soon, Ford found herself clicking on a link and filling out a quick questionnaire. Six weeks later, after going through blood and tissue typing, Ford was notified that she was a top match for the man in her friend’s post.
The post was part of the National Kidney Foundation‘s “Big Ask, Big Give” campaign, which aims to use the power of social media and social networking to find living donors for transplants and cut the waiting time for those in need, which can be years. The NKF says that there are about 100,000 people waiting for kidney transplants nationwide. Some 19,000 transplants are done annually, but only about one-third of them are from living donors. “Big Ask, Big Give” coaches those in need of a kidney on how to ask for a donor, and educates potential donors about the transplant process.
Living kidney donors are sometimes blood relatives of the person needing the transplant, but they don’t have to be. The man who received Ford’s kidney had already lost his father to the same kidney disease and his only sister was not healthy enough to be a living donor. While most transplants happen within four months of a donor match, Ford’s process took 18 months because of her donor’s health and issues with his insurance.
The costs of being evaluated to be a kidney donor and the transplant surgery itself are all paid for by the recipient’s insurance, not the donor’s. Ford paid only for the gas and tolls to get to and from the hospital where the testing and surgery were done. Improvements to the surgery process over the years mean that living donors spend less time in the hospital and can recover from donating faster. Ford went in on a Tuesday morning for a laparoscopic surgery that lasted about five hours and she left the hospital Thursday afternoon. “I could have left on Wednesday but I wasn’t ready to,” she says.
Ford took time off from work to recover at home, which is allowed by the federal Family Medical Leave Act. She also qualified for short-term disability. The NKF notes that donors can be eligible for sick leave, state disability and, sometimes up to 30 days paid leave.
“You are recovering from actual surgery, and your body needs to adjust to working on one kidney,” says Ford, who is a marathon runner and a spin instructor. Still, she admits that when she made her first walk from her house near Verona Park to Learning Express two days after surgery, she felt like she needed to take a three-hour nap when she got home.
During the long months leading up to the transplant, Ford got to know the recipient of her kidney through phone calls, Facebook and, eventually meeting in person. Through these conversations, she learned that the man, a New York City resident, was thinking of moving his family to the suburbs and she encouraged him to get to know Verona. “That way, I can visit my kidney,” she quipped. It’s still too early for him to move, but Ford notes that the man’s kidney function is now the best it has been since he was a teenager.
“It’s better than you think it will be,” Ford says of the donation process. “We’re all part of the same humankind and it’s a tough world we’re living in. I feel blessed that I was able to help another human in this way.”