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A new perspective

The mother of an organ donor experiences transplantation as a grateful recipient

Lori Wyatt knew intimately the value of organ donation before she ever needed one herself: her 16-year-old son Nicholas, whom she lost to suicide in 1995, checked the organ donor box on his driver's license one month before he died. As a result, his organs ended up helping the lives of five people.

Fifteen years later, Wyatt was the one in need of help, having learned unexpectedly that she had polycystic kidney disease, a genetic disorder in which cysts form on the kidneys, causing them to become enlarged and stop functioning.

“Even though I was born with this disease, I did not know I had it,” said Wyatt, 59. “I’d never been diagnosed with anything. I didn't even have high blood pressure until my kidneys failed.”

A view of donation from the other side

With Wyatt’s kidneys functioning at 9 percent, doctors said she needed a transplant.

Five potential donors, including her husband, niece and cousin, underwent testing to see if they could donate a kidney. The best fit turned out to be Linda Kennedy, to whom Wyatt served as a grief companion following the 2009 suicide of Kennedy’s 27-year-old son.

“Linda is a kind and caring woman,” said Wyatt, who has provided support to more than 30 mothers who have lost their children. “She would do anything for someone in need.”

A shared birthday

Kennedy had to lose 20 pounds before she could donate a kidney, and she set her sights on Feb. 1, her birthday, as her goal. On that day, Kennedy and Wyatt drove together to the VCU Medical Center, singing “Happy Birthday” to each other on the way.

The surgeries went off without a hitch, and both women were home within a week.

“The kidney Linda gave me is functioning at 80 percent,” said Wyatt, who was able to walk a mile one month after her surgery. “That’s pretty doggone good. I feel great.”

Now, Wyatt checks in with the Hume-Lee Transplant Center once a year.

“I do exactly what I’m supposed to do,” Wyatt said. “I take my medications, eat what I should, keep my weight in check and exercise. I don’t take her gift for granted one bit.”

Along with continuing her work as a companion to grieving moms, she remains a passionate advocate for organ, eye and tissue donation — even flying to California to help decorate the Donate Life float for the 2013 Rose Parade on New Year’s Day.

“Linda will forever be precious to me,” Wyatt said. “There are not enough words to thank her for giving me renewed life, but I will spend the rest of my life trying.