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Correction to This Article
In the newspaper version of this article about federal workers who have donated organs, a photo caption transposed the names of two women pictured. The corrected caption appears in the Web version: Debi Brittingham is on the left and donor Susan Wolski is on the right. Also, the article referred to Karen Shorter in one instance by the name of the neighbor who received the kidney she donated. It was Shorter, not Janet Burns, who had to stay in the hospital for about a week after her procedure because it could not be done laparoscopically.
Snapshots of federal organ donors

Friday, February 12, 2010; B03

Steve Hadley

Steve Hadley wasn't the first to offer a kidney to Baird Brown, his brother-in-law, but he was the chosen one. Seven friends and colleagues were screened and ruled out. "After almost two years of this emotional roller coaster, it seemed to me my brother-in-law had suffered enough, and I volunteered to be tested," said Hadley, 55, who at the time was a U.S. Agency for International Development bureau director in Washington.

"Lo and behold, I was a match," he said.

About six months passed between Hadley's initial screening and the May 2006 surgery at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia. After the transplant, he took about four weeks leave. His supervisors and colleagues were very supportive.

He needed that time off. Recovery experiences vary, and Hadley's wasn't good.

"It was awful, actually," he said. "But it's over soon enough, and I would absolutely recommend that others volunteer. It's remarkable to me that you can save someone else's life by giving up something you don't need."

Judy Payne

Judy Payne is a special kind of giver. The transplant world calls them "altruistic donors." Donating a kidney to help a relative or friend is more than decent enough, but she applied to Johns Hopkins Hospital to be an organ donor because she's altruistic. A news story last February about D.C. Council member Marion Barry's kidney transplant sparked her interest in becoming an organ donor. She's an athletic person -- who "loves to hike, sea kayak, cross-country ski and do dog agility with my exuberant Dalmatian," she said, not to mention running a dozen marathons.

Payne had some concerns about the effect of kidney donation surgery ("nephrectomy" in doctor speak) on her active lifestyle. But she found that she has "no restrictions on sports, except to think twice about sports where you might damage a kidney, such as auto racing."

As an added benefit, her recovery time allowed her "some time to think about my work and ways to make it more productive," said Payne, who works for USAID. "That was a surprise to me -- having a chance to step back to think a bit about my role at work was wonderful."

Sara Rasmussen-Tall

Organ donation is a major sacrifice that some people wouldn't make even for a brother or sister. But for Sara Rasmussen-Tall, "there was never any real question. My brother Geof needed a kidney, so of course I offered," she said in an e-mail from Kinshasa, Congo, where she works for USAID. "It was an automatic decision of the heart; not much time or effort had to go into thinking about it. How's the song go? 'He's not heavy. He's my brother . . .'

"When a colleague told me about the Organ Donor Leave Act, I was even prouder to be an American."

Rasmussen-Tall said it took her about seven weeks to fully recover from the 2008 surgery. "I recently had a physical exam, and the urine tests show that I have 100 percent kidney function, with just one kidney," she said. "I can not notice any difference now, except for light scars."

She said she would "absolutely urge others to donate. . . . You're directly saving someone's life and enhancing your own."

Karen Shorter

Karen Shorter was still struggling with the month-old diagnosis of her son's Hodgkin's disease when she learned that a neighbor, Janet Burns, was on dialysis.

"As a mother, there is nothing worse than the news of cancer, and there is nothing you can do to personally make it go away," she said.

Shorter, a systems accountant with the Bureau of Prisons in Washington, barely knew Burns, but "when I heard of Janet's need, I never hesitated to say I would be tested. It was something I could do to help."

Testing is extensive to make sure potential donors are compatible with intended recipients, and it took about a year before the July 2002 surgery. Burns's procedure could not be done laparoscopically, so she had to stay in the hospital for about a week, a little longer than many donors. "I did use all of my 30 days due to a longer recovery period," she said.

Not all donors and recipients bond, but Shorter did with her "kidney sister." Together, she and Burns celebrated the birth of grandbabies, the 50th anniversary of Shorter's parents in Oregon and Shorter's 2007 wedding in Bermuda.

"I could never have imagined that part of donating," she said.

By the way, her son is cancer-free.

Mary Turner

As a special agent with the U.S. Capitol Police, Mary Turner is in an unusual position to protect lives and, if necessary, take a life in the process. When she learned last year that her husband, Donald, suffered from polycystic kidney disease, she didn't hesitate to offer him "the gift of life."

She did wonder, however, whether their racial differences would be a problem. The answer is no. Donors and recipients can cross ethnic and racial lines, though compatibility is more likely within racial and ethnic groups.

In addition to the medical tests necessary to determine compatibility, prospective donors are interviewed by social workers and psychologists. "I was questioned as to my reason for wanting to donate, which I felt was obvious," she said, "but apparently had to be asked for the record -- how I would handle the situation being out of work for a significant amount of time and if I was being pressured in any way to be a donor."

Turner, 46, received lots of support from co-workers, relatives and friends after her November 2009 operation, including those who made dinner for her and her husband for a month, even on Thanksgiving.

"We had a lot to be thankful for," she said.

Susan Wolski

It's difficult to watch someone suffer. Perhaps more so when you know the suffering is coming.

Susan Wolski, a 52-year-old lawyer with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, joined the agency about the same time as her recipient, Debi Brittingham. As they got to know each other, Wolski learned that several of her co-worker's family members had polycystic kidney disease.

"At the time, the disease did not significantly affect her physically. However, that changed as time progressed," Wolski recalled of Brittingham. "I watched an apparently healthy human being be transformed by the disease."

Brittingham went on dialysis, but, as Wolski said, "dialysis does not really compensate for the lack of a functioning kidney. As the disease progresses, and while on dialysis, maintaining any semblance of normalcy is very difficult."

The pre-surgery process was longer in this case than many, yet Wolski never wavered.

"There is a certain level of pain and anxiety associated with any surgery," she said, "but the benefit of seeing, every day, the impact that a decision to donate has had, and will continue to have, on someone else's life far outweighs any level of physical or mental discomfort."

-- Joe Davidson

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