Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Friday, May 25, 2018

kidney donation 5207 900x600 webSally McCartin of North Branford soaks up some sun at Hubbard Park in Meriden. (Photos by Karen A. Avitabile)Sometimes, people turn to God in times of crisis or for a sign to make a life-altering decision. For one North Branford woman, asking God to show her a sign was all she needed to give someone the greatest gift — the gift of life.

What began as a friendship between two hockey moms turned into more than just being kindred spirits. The two women became soulmates, forever tied to each other.

It was 2008. Sarah (who likes to be called Sally) McCartin of North Branford met Michelle when their sons played hockey together. Occasionally, the families would get together for dinner.

“I liked her immediately,” McCartin says of Michelle, who asked to be referred to by her first name only. “We became friendly.”

Fast forward to 2013. The women’s sons still played hockey, but on different teams, so they rarely saw or communicated with one another. One day, McCartin saw a Facebook posting that would change the lives of both women. The posting said that Michelle needed a kidney.

“I couldn't believe it,” says McCartin, who never knew her friend was ill. “I just felt if I was healthy enough to save someone's life, how could I not?”

kidney donation soul sisters group 900x600 webSally McCartin of North Branford joins participants in a fundraising walk to combat polycystic kidney disease that coincided with her Transcript interview in Hubbard Park in Meriden. A crowd of people, some holding signs and others wearing white T-shirts with “Walk for PKD” in purple letters, walked around the park’s pond. Immediately, McCartin struck up conversations with some of the walkers, many of them past PKD sufferers who had received new kidneys from living donors.A Yale-New Haven Hospital telephone number was listed in the posting for potential donors to call. McCartin immediately did, and went to the hospital for initial blood work and screening. After an additional six weeks of countless medical tests, McCartin was told she was not only a suitable match, but a perfect match for Michelle. Two other candidates who also underwent testing were denied due to medical reasons, and a third candidate, who was a match, backed out of the process.

Early on, McCartin was not allowed to tell Michelle that she would be her organ donor. When Michelle eventually learned it was McCartin, she says, she began worrying that something could happen to her friend during surgery.
“I was blown away,” Michelle says of McCartin’s selfless act. “I couldn't believe she stepped forward.”

Since her college days, Michelle had been living with an inherited condition, polycystic kidney disease (PKD), which causes clusters of cysts to develop in the kidneys. The condition cannot be cured and, in many cases, kidney failure can occur by age 60. Michelle had other family members who also suffered with PKD, but who’d successfully received kidney donations.

On Aug. 22, 2013, the two women arrived for surgery at Yale-New Haven. McCartin’s mandated social worker for organ donors told her she could back out of the surgery, even at the last minute, if she had any doubts. But McCartin, who has always considered herself a giving person, was convinced that God was guiding her through this process and that both women would be fine after the surgery.

“I had no regrets, no second thoughts,” says McCartin, a member of St. Elizabeth of the Trinity Parish in North Haven. “I became even more spiritual when I did this. ... I asked God to show me some signs this is what I am supposed to do."

Two days after surgery, McCartin was released from the hospital, but was required to stay out of work for six weeks. To date, she has not experienced any complications resulting from the surgery. And Michelle is now healthy and feeling great.

Medical costs associated with the organ donation don’t typically fall on the donor; they are typically paid by the recipient's insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. Although McCartin had exhausted all of her sick time, she considered herself lucky to be able to use a short-term disability policy from the job she then held at the Department of Revenue Services in Hartford to continue collecting her salary during the recovery period. She works elsewhere now.

Living organ donors are often discouraged from donating because of loss of wages, out-of-pocket expenses, little or no sick time and no short-term disability to tap into, McCartin learned after her surgery. So she went on a mission to change this. She began researching organizations that could financially assist living organ donors during their recovery and thus encourage more people to become living donors.

“I don’t want that to be a reason people don’t become donors,” McCartin says, referring to financial hardship.

Last year, McCartin learned of a national organization, the American Organ Donor Fund, which aids living organ donors. She immediately filled out the paperwork to create a Connecticut chapter, which she named Kid-U-Not (www.KidUNot.org). To date, the organization has given out close to $13,000 to three living kidney donors and one liver donor.

Why name it Kid-U-Not? “Because any time I give people money from the organization (and they are always surprised), I say, ‘Kid-U-Not,’” McCartin explains.

Donations for Kid-U-Not can be made by visiting its website, kidunot.org. Fundraisers are also being planned. A cookie swap was set for Dec. 17 at the Irish American Community Center (IACC) in East Haven; a gala is planned for April 14, 2018, at Cascade Fine Catering in Hamden; and a Motown dance will be held on April 21, 2018, also at IACC. McCartin also plans to solicit donations from large companies, apply for grants and establish partnerships with businesses and other organizations. In addition to running Kid-U-Not, McCartin tries to find living organ donors for people on a waiting list.

Today, McCartin and Michelle talk every day, see each other often and agree they are truly “soul sisters.” They know the outcome was meant to be.

“It’s just amazing what she did for me,” Michelle says. “What she did was so selfless.”

Says McCartin, “I knew in my soul it was the right thing to do.”