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‘No more precious gift': Mom, daughter recall kidney transplant made possible with stranger’s help

SHARE ‘No more precious gift': Mom, daughter recall kidney transplant made possible with stranger’s help

SALT LAKE CITY — When Barbara Salin discovered she had late-stage renal failure, her family's response was immediate and overwhelming.

In a pitch to save Salin's life, her daughter, Amanda Terry, didn't hesitate to offer one of her kidneys.

"There wasn't even a thought to it. It was automatic," Salin says. "We're a very close family, here for each other no matter what the situation is."

Amanda Terry is pictured at her home in Salt Lake City on Friday, May 11, 2018. In May 2014, Terry gave up a kidney to a total stranger in order to secure a similarly blind donation to her mother.

Amanda Terry is pictured at her home in Salt Lake City on Friday, May 11, 2018. In May 2014, Terry gave up a kidney to a total stranger in order to secure a similarly blind donation to her mother.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Neither Salin nor her daughter initially knew much at all about kidney donation, or what would need to fall into place to make it successful. When Terry found out her blood type was not compatible with that of her mom, making her an ineligible donor, she was crushed.

"It was devastating to me because usually siblings and children match the closest," said Terry, of Millcreek.

The bad news seemingly slammed the door shut on personally making a difference in her mom's fight for her life. But Terry pressed on in desperate search of an alternate solution.

Thanks to a relatively new medical practice called paired kidney exchange — in which Terry could give up a kidney to a total stranger in order to secure a similarly blind donation to her mother — her persistence paid off.

"For those of us who don't match, to know there's another option, there's still hope. … That means so much," Terry said. "To participate in a paired exchange opens up more opportunities for people to be helped, to have a better quality of life, to live longer."

Paired exchanges enable non-matching family members or loved ones of ill patients to donate a kidney in exchange for a matching donation from someone else in a similar situation.

By virtue of paired exchange arrangement, "if you could have a family member or a friend that donates (to a stranger), it makes your time on the waiting list a lot less," said Dixie Madsen, spokeswoman for Intermountain Donor Services.

Amanda Terry is pictured at her home in Salt Lake City on Friday, May 11, 2018. In May 2014, Terry gave up a kidney to a total stranger in order to secure a similarly blind donation to her mother.

Amanda Terry is pictured at her home in Salt Lake City on Friday, May 11, 2018. In May 2014, Terry gave up a kidney to a total stranger in order to secure a similarly blind donation to her mother.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Despite a temporary scare in which Terry herself was diagnosed with a tumor near her kidneys, later found to be benign, the time to begin the paired donation process arrived in March 2014.

Terry had her kidney removed at University Hospital on behalf of a stranger whom she still doesn't know. The next day, her mother received another woman's kidney at the same facility. Mother and daughter then recuperated side by side.

"I was just hurting like crazy, and (Amanda) comes into my room — it's the next day — and she says, 'Mom, are you going to go get up and walk?' I was like, 'No way,'" Salin told the Deseret News with a laugh. "She's just a go-getter."

Salin, from Clovis, California, said Terry's determination to secure a kidney transplant through a paired exchange was "the most special gift in the world … for a daughter to give their mother."

"There's no words," Salin said. "For a mother to be able to say their child would be willing to … put their life on the line for you, it's the most humbling experience. … There's no more precious gift on earth than what she did for me."

Terry said when it came to the prospect of literally giving up a part of herself if it meant helping her mother survive, her mindset was "whatever I need to do."

The pair's relationship was brought up a notch when Salin lived with her daughter before and after the surgery for about nine months. Both made full recoveries.

Amanda Terry is pictured at her home in Salt Lake City on Friday, May 11, 2018. In May 2014, Terry gave up a kidney to a total stranger in order to secure a similarly blind donation to her mother.

Amanda Terry is pictured at her home in Salt Lake City on Friday, May 11, 2018. In May 2014, Terry gave up a kidney to a total stranger in order to secure a similarly blind donation to her mother.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

"We've always been close, but after this experience, our bond was even closer. We got to share new experiences together, so it really was a positive thing," Terry said.

Like her daughter, Salin mostly remembers "the things we learned and the wonderful miracles that happened" as a result of her health crisis, though she admits "the whole thing from start to finish was an emotional roller coaster."

Salin believes her daughter's tumor would not have been found if it weren't for the tests she was undergoing before transplant. Salin's brother also "had no idea he had high blood pressure," she said.

The ordeal also brought Salin into the life of her donor, a woman who she says is now considered "family" and she regularly stays in touch. In Salin's particular case, the paired donation was accomplished with the help of a "good Samaritan" donor — the term used for someone who didn't have any personal connection to anybody in need of a kidney but who feels compelled to provide one anyway.

"She's such a giving person. It was just an answer to prayer," Salin said. "For her to walk in off the street and to say, 'I want to give a kidney,' … this woman was just so selfless."

Terry she will always be "indebted" to her mother's donor.

"Because of her, my mom is still here and I'm able to celebrate Mother's Day with her," she said. "I'm able to see my mom with an improved quality of life that she didn't have before. It's hard to put into words how grateful, how appreciative … I am."

Salin's good Samaritan donor declined to interview for this story.

Madsen said good Samaritan donors are not compensated for volunteering their kidneys.

"It's totally altruistic," she said, though in Utah and other states some tax breaks may apply to the donation.

Terry and Salin have since become active volunteers promoting organ donation. Terry said she is particularly concerned with promoting the concept that a person can live a full, active life with a single kidney.

"Nothing has changed (for me)," she said. "You wouldn't know that I only had one."

Salin said she now blogs about the virtues or organ donation and tries to work in conversations about it in daily situations. During her recovery, she had an epiphany:

"This wasn't about me," she said. "This was about how many people we could help."

According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, nearly 115,000 Americans are currently on waiting lists in need of a lifesaving organ transplant. About 20 people die each day while on a transplant waiting list, the organization says, and a single donor can save up to eight lives.