Organ Donors Come Together for Rare and Special Meeting - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Organ Donors Come Together for Rare and Special Meeting

Updated:
WASHINGTON (WBOC)- Last spring WBOC shared with you the story of a Milford woman in desperate need of a kidney transplant.
Nadine Holleger had polycystic kidney disease. It's a life-threatening, genetic disorder.

Holleger had a willing donor, Leia Dypsky. But Dypsky was not a match.

Holleger's blood type was making finding a match very hard. Still Holleger did end up getting a kidney this past June. It was process called "paired exchanged" that saved her life.

On April 27 Holleger was in Washington, D.C., looking for a needle in a haystack. There were 15,000 runners participating in the Nike Women's Half-Marathon, and she was looking for just one.

"It's still a bit hard for us to recognize her, because we only met her once," she said.

Holleger met Jennifer Raczka that one time only the day before the race. But since June, despite not having met, they've shared a connection - specifically that Holleger now has Raczka's kidney in her. That happened through paired exchange.

"They will put your information in the computer," Holleger explained. "The computer finds the best match for you from a group of people who have already been entered."

In other words, a donor-recipient pair ends up swapping with total strangers. And in this case, the computer found three pairings that together could exchange successfully.

Holleger had her willing, but non-matching, donor - Dypsky. Raczka was donating for her mother, Gail Kneebone. And the computer also pulled in donor don Hyneck and his sister-in-law, the recipient, "Beth."

Dypsky's kidney went to "Beth" in san francisco. Hyneck's went to kneebone in san diego. And Raczka's came to Holleger in Delaware.

"It's a round robin of organs going around the country," said Hyneck.

"We saved three lives," Dypsky said.

At the time of the donations, donors didn't know whose organs they were getting, and recipients didn't know where their organs were going.

"I was focused on my mom," Raczka said. "In the back of my mind, I thought, 'I hope mine is going somewhere good. I wanted it to have a good home.'

But there was no guarantee Raczka would ever learn where that home was. Paired exchanges donors and recipients don't necessarily learn each other's identities.

"We are given the opportunity after the donation takes place to send a confidential letter to the donor," said Holleger. "If they choose to respond, they can."

And Raczka did.

"We have been talking to each other via text message and email for the last five or six months," Holleger said.

Eventually all the pairings connected. And when it turned out Raczka would be coming from California to DC to run, an idea was hatched to come to Washington to watch her run and also do something very rare and very special.

"[It's] like a big family reunion," Holleger said.

On that warm April weekend, the whole paired exchange group - all six people - came to the nation's capital to meet face to face.

"It was a little overwhelming, but it was also very comfortable," Holleger said, through tears.

"It's like a family that's been out there that now you've had a chance to meet," said Kneebone.

"When we got together here I was going, 'Most of me is here, and a little bit of me is sitting across the table.' It was an odd sensation," Hyneck said.

Everyone agreed seeing three people who had been so sick doing so well was the easy part.

"I'm about eight months out now," said Holleger. "It's like night and day. I feel so much better."

"It was awesome," Raczka said, as tears welled up in her eyes. "I'm glad."

The hard part was figuring out how to say thank you and you're welcome.

"["Beth"] says thank you. But I just did it," Dypsky said. "I don't know what to say back. It's just you're welcome."

"They just have a very big heart," said Holleger. "I don't think you can say thank you."

In the end, Holleger didn't find her needle in the half-marathon  haystack. In fact nobody in the exchange group spotted Raczka crossing the finish line.

But finding a kidney match was like finding a needle in a haystack, too. And here, one out two doesn't seem so bad.
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