Katie Buchanan’s transplant story is unique because it’s not just one story, it’s three. Buchanan is a three-time kidney recipient whose battle began when she was just five years old. A biopsy revealed a rare disease called focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, or FSGS, in which scarring prevented her kidneys from properly filtering blood.
Dialysis kept Buchanan alive for the better part of a year, but, ultimately, she had to have both kidneys removed. It was a rare and risky procedure, but necessary to avoid a stroke risk. Her first kidney transplant was from her mother, a perfect match.
Fast forward to her college years.
"Transplants don’t last forever," Buchanan says. "During my senior year, my kidney was functioning at only 20%."
A family member came to her rescue. Four weeks after her second transplant, Buchanan was back at school.
An infection led to her third transplant. Ironically, the medications used to treat this unrelated illness harmed her otherwise healthy kidney, leading to more dialysis.
"It was a dark time," Buchanan says, crediting her husband Bob Bushmiaer with providing much-needed emotional support.
In this instance, the best timing and outcome came from a local deceased donor. A 23-year-old who had lost his life in a car accident was a perfect match.
"I can’t explain how that phone call feels," Buchanan says. "His mother didn’t know if he was a registered organ donor, but because he had been working to go to nursing school she knew he would want to help people."
Sixty-four percent of eligible Arkansans are registered as organ, tissue and eye donors, but there is still a gap between the need and donation. Today, there are 114,000 Americans on the national transplant waiting list, and 300 of them are in Arkansas.
Every day, 22 people die waiting for an organ that isn’t available in time, according to the Arkansas Regional Organ Recovery Agency (ARORA), Arkansas’ largest organ and tissue recovery agency. The ARORA team works to educate and inspire more Arkansans to register to become donors.
"When someone registers to become an organ, tissue and eye donor, they have the potential to save up to eight lives through organ donation and restore the lives of hundreds through tissue donation," says Audrey Coleman, director of communications for ARORA.
ARORA also helped Buchanan reach out to her donor’s mother, Laura.
"Connecting to who these people were in a real and meaningful way is a crucial healing step. Laura told me that she wanted me to know how loved I was," says Buchanan, who is now an ARORA volunteer.
"Katie is a joy to work with," says Beth Cameron, manager of family aftercare at ARORA. "She is dedicated to advocating for donation and is always so compassionate to any donor family she meets."
April is National Donate Life Month, and to honor those who restored lives through the generous gift of donation and to encourage others to consider registering as donors, ARORA has commissioned a public art display that will be exhibited in spaces throughout the state.
The installation was created by local artist Virmarie DePoyster with the theme "Bee a Donor," inspired by the powerful role bees play in sustaining life and their tightly knit community. The display features more than 100 bees that will be installed at the UA Little Rock Windgate Center of Art and Design, Pleasant Ridge Town Center and Wildwood Park for the Arts.
To learn more and to register to become an organ, tissue and eye donor, visit the ARORA website.
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