Emotional First Meeting Between Kidney Recipient and Deceased Donor’s Family

Two years post- transplant, recipient Brenda Barr exchanges hugs, stories and tears with her deceased donor’s family

“I can’t imagine having another chance like this. I am going to take very good care of my gift. I will not take it for granted.”

Brenda Barr, kidney recipient at Mercy Health Kidney Transplant Center, received her kidney on January 27, 2016, as one of the five record-breaking kidney transplants in a 24-hour period at Mercy Health Kidney Transplant Center. Barr, who suffers from polycystic kidney disease, a genetic disorder in which cysts grow on the kidneys, was on the transplant list for several years before she received the call that a kidney was available.

Immediately after her transplant, Barr felt better as her body started to function without needing dialysis. Within weeks, Barr went back to work and began going to the gym daily to ensure that she remains healthy.

Several months after her transplant, Barr and the donor’s family began to exchange emails, through the guidance and help of Gift of Life Michigan. Barr discovered that her kidney had come from a 39-year-old young father named Mike, and that he left behind his wife Michelle and three small children.

At the two-year anniversary of her donor’s passing, Barr again reached out to her donor’s wife through email to let her know she was thinking of her, and the two decided that now was the time for an in-person meeting with their families.

Before the initial exchange, Barr was very concerned about how Michelle was doing. “I can’t imagine how she is coping after losing her husband, especially with her small children.”

Brenda Barr, recipient, and Michelle, wife of donor, hugMichelle and Brenda share stories and photos of their familiesMichelle shows Brenda a booklet of Mike and his lifeMichelle, Brenda Barr, and Mike's parents, Deb and Ron

Hosted on the fifth floor of the Lacks Cancer Center on February 10, 2018, Barr, with her husband, two daughters and two grandchildren, finally met Michelle, Mike’s parents and Michelle and Mike’s three children.

After a very long embrace, the two women began sharing their stories.

“His gift will enable me to be a grandma for many years to come,” Barr said, pointing to two of her nine young grandchildren who came.

“I feel like when I hug Brenda, I am hugging my husband again,” said Michelle. “For me, this is part of the healing process, to meet Brenda. This is definitely what Mike would have wanted. He was always putting others before him.”

As hard as it is to lose him, according to Michelle, it was important for her children to meet Barr and her family. “Any way I can share a part of their daddy with them, I will make it happen.”

Nephrologist Michael Hofmann, MD, offered his emotional support during the exchange: “Seeing these two amazing families come together just reiterates how small of a piece we clinicians play in their lives.”

Hofmann was the on-call nephrologist who facilitated the coordination of the five kidneys during the record-breaking day in January 2016.

The first month of 2016 set the pace for the entire year at the Mercy Health Kidney Transplant Center. 2016 broke the record for the most transplants the center had ever performed in a year, totaling 137, earning Mercy Health Kidney Transplant Center a spot as one of the 50 Busiest Transplant Centers in America for 2016.

For more information on registering to become an organ donor, please visit www.giftoflife.org.

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