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Altruistic kidney donor shares story of faith

A stranger’s gift of a lifesaving organ donation fosters a strong new friendship.

Two women smile as they hug. Danny LaPointe (left) and Lauretta Minor (right) in a warm embrace exemplifying their friendship. LaPointe was motivated by her faith to become a living kidney donor, which saved the life of her new friend, Minor. (VCU Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center)

By Kyra Newman

Lauretta Minor and Danny LaPointe both say faith brought them together.

And now they have shared “faith,” as Minor lovingly refers to the kidney she received from LaPointe – someone she didn’t even know at the time of their transplant surgeries.

“Faith is about believing God is going to handle it for you – knowing that he will handle it for you, and for me not to worry,” said Minor, who began struggling with kidney health shortly before retiring from the U.S. Marine Corps in 2002 after 20 years. “Because we get inundated with the small things or things that are going on that are really outside our control.”

For her, faith also guided her to the right doctors at VCU Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center. That trust was special because she needed a second organ after her body rejected her first kidney due to a blood clot only two days after implantation. She credits the Hume-Lee medical team for scouring waiting lists to quickly find another match.

As she waited for word about a second new kidney during the pandemic, Minor was grateful to be teleworking. Three times a week, she spent a half-day undergoing dialysis to do the work her surviving kidney could not.

In December 2021, the mother of four grown children got a call to come in for new labs and testing for a possible match. Soon into the new year, the medical team confirmed her second transplant surgery – one of nearly 300 at Hume-Lee in 2022 — from a living donor. 

A spot on the bucket list

During college, LaPointe, one of three daughters of lifelong missionaries, heard about living organ donations —specifically kidneys, since a healthy person can give up one of their natural pair and live as normal.

“I was blown away that the technology even existed for us to be able to do that – and that maybe I had an organ I didn’t need that could save somebody’s life,” said LaPointe, now a fourth-grade educator at Williamsburg Christian Academy. “I had a little bucket list on my computer, and I added it there. I was already a blood donor and have an organ donor notation on my driver’s license.”

At the time, taking off work for the post-surgical recovery wasn’t financially feasible. Shortly after she moved to Virginia, the pandemic struck, making it hard to find a teaching job since schools shut down.

It took a year, but LaPointe finally landed a new job as a hospital medical secretary.

Because the hospital helps employees with time off and other support to promote living donors, “I started looking into the process, and decided to go for it,” said LaPointe. “I really feel like it was something God was calling me to do, that that was something he had put on my heart and on my mind. This was something I was very passionate about.”

A life-changing gift

Most years, Hume-Lee sees a case or two involving an altruistic donor — someone who offers an organ without a specified recipient. Usually, living donors specify a family member or close friend, so altruistic donors are rare.

“This is the greatest gift possible,” said Adrian Cotterell, M.D., Hume-Lee transplant surgeon who specializes in kidney, liver and pancreas transplantation, including with living donors. He performed Minor’s second transplant surgery, after Amit Sharma, M.D., another transplantation surgeon, procured the healthy kidney from LaPointe.

“If you feel moved to be a donor, get tested and put yourself forward,” Cotterell said. “It’s a brave offer that delivers immediate relief to a recipient in renal failure.”

Early this spring, VCU Health invited LaPointe and Minor to meet each other for the first time, face-to-face, almost a year to the day of their transplant surgeries.

As she went into surgery, the only thing Minor knew was that her donor was a woman. LaPointe remembers asking the moment she awoke after surgery how the recipient and her former kidney were responding, but the hospital keeps up a protective wall until both are medically stable and agree to meet. After that year, the two connected in a transplant center conference room, joined by many of the providers who had cared for them.

“It was an emotional thing, because I’ve been thinking about this person for over a year, but I was very, very grateful that I got to meet her,” said LaPointe, who immediately singled out her kidney recipient as the one person not wearing scrubs. “We both burst into tears and gave each other a big hug for almost 10 minutes.”

LaPointe knew there was a slim chance of things not working out.

“But I was willing to try either way,” she said. “Knowing that it worked, and she’s been able to do the things she enjoys again, that was very meaningful.”

A friendship based in belief

While faith was their greatest bond, the pair quickly uncovered other connections in their lives. For example, during her Marine career, Minor had been stationed in San Diego, where LaPointe’s father had been a pastor at a church with many parishioners from military backgrounds.

The two regularly text since that in-person meeting, with LaPointe looking forward to inspirational Monday messages from Minor, whose doctors have yet to pinpoint what caused her biological kidneys to deteriorate. LaPointe admits the items remaining on her bucket list are “pretty typical stuff now,” such as getting married and having a family. Minor and her husband, Larry Minor, recently traveled to Denver to meet long-time friends – a trip they couldn’t have taken until her health improved.

Minor, who is back to work full-time with a recent promotion, said the meeting was overwhelming because she was meeting the person who made a sacrifice for her.

“You have a stranger who didn’t know you, whose offer just lightens your heart,” she said. “That’s just above and beyond. To me, a hero is someone willing to do something for someone they don’t know.” 

Two women stand next to each other, arm in arm, smiling.

Lauretta Minor (left) and Danny LaPointe (right) were strangers before the living kidney transplant surgery, but now share a very close bond. (VCU Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center)