In Her Own Words: A Kidney Donor’s Experience Inspires Her to Work for Mercy Health

Nicole Smith with her Mercy Health Kidney Transplant water bottle
Nicole Smith with her Mercy Health Kidney Transplant water bottle

Story told by Colleague Nicole Smith

Mercy Health came into my life when my brother-in-law, Richard Major, had advanced kidney disease and needed dialysis. Because I’m the “medical-minded one in the family,” I attended education classes and physician appointments with Richard at Mercy Health.

That’s when I immediately recognized what sets Mercy Health apart: How we were treated by staff was a completely different experience from what I have observed and experienced in my life with other health care providers.

The people at Mercy Health show great care and compassion for their patients and for what they are going through.

During Richard’s journey of waiting for a kidney transplant through the Mercy Health Kidney Transplant Center, I learned how many people were waiting for a kidney and how long they had to wait—and that is what made me consider becoming a living kidney donor. It was the staggering statistics that prompted me to get tested to see if I qualified to be a donor.

[“The average wait time for a deceased kidney donor in Michigan is five to seven years, according to the National Kidney Foundation,” reports Kelly Summers, BSN, manager of Mercy Health Kidney Transplant Center. “About 60% of kidney transplants at Mercy Health Kidney Transplant Center come from deceased donors. When we look at the numbers for the need for transplants, it’s a staggering epidemic. The number of people in the country waiting for a transplant could entirely fill the Big House at the University of Michigan. Although 33,000 transplants were performed across the country in 2016 — a record year — it barely touches the amount being added to the transplant list that year.”]

It turned out that I was not only qualified, but I had the same blood type as Richard: AB+. I was able to be his living kidney donor!

Nicole with her brother-in-law, Richard Major, the kidney recipient
Nicole with her brother-in-law, Richard Major, the recipient of her kidney.

Before my surgery was scheduled, I learned about an opening at Mercy Health in Human Resources (HR) that was perfect for me. I remember thinking: How cool would it be to donate my kidney through Mercy Health and then become part of their HR team and be able to share my story! As it turned out, the Friday before my surgery, I had an interview at Mercy Health.

I was calm before my surgery on Monday, June 19, 2017, but my husband and one of my sons became anxious when I checked in at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s on the day of the transplant. Naturally, once I saw their anxiety, I began to become anxious, too.

Joel Green, MD, my surgeon, is phenomenal. When he entered the room he could see the worry on our faces, and he stopped and said, “I need to pray. Can we pray?” I said, “Absolutely.”

We formed a circle, and he prayed specifically to calm my son. He prayed that God would guide his hands, and he also prayed for me and for my brother-in-law. Dr. Green’s kind, heartfelt prayer calmed us all down, and I was ready for surgery.

#955 Kidney pillow 1
Nicole’s kidney pillow

The week after I was in the hospital recovering, I received a call from an HR leader, and we spoke for about an hour. I already felt like I was part of the team. I went through a formal interview process three weeks after my release from the hospital and was hired as Senior Organizational Development Consultant shortly thereafter.

During my interview, I shared how proud I am to have been part of my brother-in-law’s journey. To be able to see his health improve in just one day—after getting my kidney—means so much to me.

I have also shared with my HR team about my experience with the level of care, compassion and service that I received as a patient at Mercy Health.

The care at Mercy Health isn’t the norm—and I can say that because I’ve seen firsthand other family member’s experiences with other health care systems. I can compare Mercy Health to them, and Mercy Health, in my mind, comes out on top.

Since donating my kidney, I am more aware of being healthy, but I have no lingering concerns. My family is more accepting of my decision to be a living kidney donor because they see how healthy Richard is and that I am healthy too. I take my family to heart and would have done the same for any of them. They understand that donating my kidney was God’s plan for me.

I encourage all of my family and friends to spread the word about the need for kidney donors—living or deceased. You never know who can be a donor; I am a perfect example. I am happy to say that these days my family members have the donor symbol on their driver’s licenses, as do I.

Mercy Health is participating in a challenge to register people for the Organ Donor Registry, from October 2-November 10, 2017.

To sign up, please visit: Read more about the challenge here>>

Nicole Smith at Mercy HealthMy previous job was with another health care system. I can honestly say that I am overwhelmed by the caring and compassion Mercy Health shows not only to patients, but also to colleagues. As an example, I received welcome messages in my work email before I even arrived. The HR team I work with is a wonderful group of caring people who “walk, talk and actually live their truth.”

Being a patient and colleague as a member of Mercy Health’s HR team, I can testify that the important work that goes on behind the scenes truly trickles down to the patients. It makes a positive difference in their lives, which is what our work is all about.



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