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San Francisco Police Officer Donates Kidney to Save a Strangers Life

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It’s a story unfortunately known all too well: those who require a new organ in order to live, yet find so much trouble finding a viable donor. San Francisco Police Officer Anna Cuthbertson certainly had never considered donating an organ before, and certainly not to a stranger. However, that changed after she had listened to a podcast which told the story of someone who chosen to donate an organ to save someone’s life. This story inspired to seek out what she could do to make this incredible impact in someone’s life.

Her research brought her to Matching Donors, a website that connects organ donors with those who require organ transplant. It specifies which organs are needed, and whether people would be a match with their respective donors. Looking through the website, it almost seems like personal ads, where those who required transplants tell people about themselves, what they need, and what brought them into this position. It’s quite sobering seeing just how many people were in such great need of organ transplants. This struck Cuthbertson, as she said, “There were so many people that just needed somebody to step forward so they can live”.

Eventually, Cuthbertson found someone whom she wanted to help out: sixty-five-year-old Joan Grealis. Joan had been diagnosed with kidney disease over 5 years ago, which had been caused by a chemical reaction that took place after a surgery she had in her 20’s. Her husband and two grown children immediately offered to donate a kidney to her, but it was discovered they all were unable to donate to Joan due to medical reasons. With little hope, she was told she would eventually die without a transplant. For five years, she was on a waitlist to get a new kidney with no success. After being suggested to sign up for a donor website, she enrolled herself in Matching Donors, which is where she was connected with Cuthbertson.

At the time of matching, Joan and Anna spoke on the phone for several hours, despite being complete strangers. Anna said, “Joan is about the age that my mother would have been if she was alive,” so she was emboldened to do what whatever was necessary to save her life. Helping people has always been an important aspect in Cuthbertson’s life, as she has served as a police officer for San Francisco for 10 years, in addition to serving 13 years prior in the US Army. She attributes her decision to do this to her time in law enforcement, saying, “You spend a lot of days and a lot of weeks and a lot of months feeling like you’re not doing that, like you’re not making things better for people, and that’s frustrating, and this was a way for me to know that at least I made an impact somewhere.”

As the two woman bonded during the months of testing that followed, it was unfortunately determined they were not match. However, Cuthbertson was still determined to help Joan, so she entered a kidney exchange program via the National Kidney Registry. Since she brought such a healthy kidney into the registry, it only took two weeks to find a match, which set off a chain of patients getting a healthy kidney, almost like she was the missing piece of the puzzle. The week of November 16th, Joan received her kidney transplant from an anonymous donor in Southern California, while Cuthbertson underwent surgery to have her kidney donated to an anonymous patient.

Despite Cuthbertson’s kidney not going to Joan, the two woman have since become great friends. As for Joan, she is already feeling stronger, and is making her way to a full recovery. She says, “I’m looking forward to all of 2018, actually. I have a lot I want to do”

Avid writer and reader with a curious mind, I'm always looking to get the most out of life! Follow me on Twitter @whatsaschoon

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