Finding a kidney for Kasey: Welia Health nurse becomes a living organ donor
In late December of 2022, in an extraordinary act of humanity, Bethany Sjodin embarked on a life-altering journey, becoming a living organ donor.
The Welia Health nurse supervisor has been a part of many life-saving acts, but this hit remarkably close to home.
After enduring eight hours of various tests, multiple tubes of blood drawn, and several rounds of interviews with different professionals, including a dietitian, nurse coordinator, social worker, chaplain, and even the surgeon himself, Dr. Mark Hill, who, by the way, read the entire consent form out loud, determined she was eligible to become a donor for Kasey Lindstrom.
Yet as the date neared, Bethany still had a looming fear: that her donated kidney wouldn’t work for Kasey.
Family connections inspire a generous sacrifice
Kasey Lindstrom was diagnosed with Lupus when she was a teenager. Lupus is a mysterious autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the healthy tissues in the body. Its definite cause is unknown, as it is sometimes a result of genetics and other times a result of environmental factors. It is also, unfortunately, incurable; it is treatable, but in Kasey’s case, it left her kidneys damaged beyond repair.
It was two years ago when doctors determined the then 34-year-old would need a transplant or face a lifetime of dialysis. Armed with that news, her family and friends set out to find a donor among them.
A perchance meeting
One Sunday afternoon, Bethany popped in to visit her grandparents, as she often does, and on that day, her great aunt – and Kasey’s mother – was there, too. Aunt Gayle Lamp is Bethany’s great uncle’s second wife, and her daughter is Kasey. There is no biological relation between the two.
Bethany, a mom of four kids, understood her aunt’s anguish.
“I couldn’t imagine my child struggling with something I couldn’t fix,” said Bethany. “I hope the people I love would step up and help my children if there was ever a need.”
Organ donation resources
Learn more about organ donation, finding matches and organ transplantation with a host of resources at the end of this blog.
That encounter had Bethany thinking, and then she felt a calling, one that could help Kasey live a life without daily dialysis. Thus, she began her research – reaching out to other donors, asking a million questions and listening to their advice and experiences. She only heard good things.
“My husband and family were totally supportive throughout the process,” said Bethany. “As a Christian, I felt God lined up that Sunday afternoon trip to see my grandparents.”
Affirmed in her decision, Bethany filled out the initial paperwork; however, soon after that visit, she was told she was “down the line of (many) applicants.” Bethany’s Aunt Gayle and the family had done a great job of recruiting donors, so it took nearly a year when, finally, nurse coordinator Jenny Bodner reached out to Bethany, asking her if she was still interested in donating a kidney to Kasey.
“YES,” Bethany responded, “of course I am.”
Once Bethany confirmed her intention, she was sent an oral swab for tissue matching and a confirmation blood test. Next came the eight-hour marathon of tests and interviews.
The third time’s a charm for Kasey’s kidney transplant
Bethany first learned she was a match for Kasey in January 2023. The nurse coordinator at HCMC let Bethany call Kasey to share the good news. Kasey didn’t need the kidney quite yet, but that could change at any given moment.
And change it did when Kasey’s kidneys began failing fast. Jenny and her team quickly scheduled the surgery for February 2, 2023.
But just a week before the February 2 date, Kasey began experiencing chest pains and was immediately placed on dialysis; cardiology now needed to clear Kasey for surgery before the transplant team could proceed. It wasn’t long, and cardiology gave the go-ahead. Surgery was rescheduled for a month later, on March 2. However, that date also needed to be postponed because Kasey had tested positive for COVID-19.
With two canceled surgeries, Bethany wondered if God was telling her the donation wasn’t meant to be.
Since the transplant (at this time) was not emergent, the doctors and nurses did their best to honor the donor’s time constraints and commitments. Bethany had recently taken on a role as the new assistant varsity softball coach. Spring of 2023 was her first season of coaching, and like everything Bethany does, she put her heart into the team. With her first (winning) season wrapping up for the year, Bethany felt ready for the surgery.
On June 19, the day before the scheduled surgery, Bethany took one final test, COVID-19, and immediately texted Kasey when she received the results. The test was negative! This was overwhelmingly positive news, and surgery was scheduled for the next day.
With (happy) tears in her eyes, she told her boss, Cindy Horton, that the surgery would finally take place and her leave would start immediately.
“Cindy was just as excited as I was,” said Bethany. “She is the most amazing boss ever and has been so supportive throughout the entire process, as have all my colleagues and friends at Welia Health.”
Bonded for eternity as lives are forever changed
On the morning of the surgery, Bethany and Kasey had to arrive at HCMC by 6:30am, Kasey with her mother and Bethany with her husband. The two hugged each other, took a picture, and posted “Today’s the day!!” on Facebook.
Looking back at the post now, with hundreds and hundreds of reactions and comments, Bethany is astonished by her family and friends (and extended friends) outpouring support of love, well wishes and offerings of help. It is “truly heartwarming,” she said.
Then, with their respective nurses, they both were gowned and rolled into the OR. Throughout her 2½ hour procedure, Bethany’s husband stayed well informed, receiving periodic text updates and joined her in the recovery room when it was complete, where they remained until Kasey was out of surgery shortly after 4:30pm. Kasey had the room right next to Bethany.
Surgery day was Tuesday; by Wednesday, Bethany was up and walking around, and by Friday, she was on her way home to Mora, greeted by her children and a huge “Welcome Home, Mamma!” sign.
For the first six months following surgery, Bethany has needed to hyperhydrate her remaining kidney so it doesn’t get overloaded. She drinks two gallons (256 ounces) of water each day!
Early on, Bethany had mobility restrictions to prevent her from twisting her abdomen. To help, her husband Zac and children, 12-year-old son LJ, 6-year-old daughter Quinn, and 5-year-old boy-girl twins Noah and Elles stepped in to care for their expansive garden, as well as the 30 chickens, three goats, one pony, two dogs and one cat on their hobby farm.
Throughout the process, her family has been very supportive; Bethany said her kids knew their mom was doing something extraordinary.
An hour and a half after the surgery, Bethany, too, felt a sense of awe. She did do the right thing, and the kidney transplantation did work: Kasey’s kidney had started producing urine. At the post-operative appointment and ultrasound, Kasey’s doctor proclaimed she now has the “best-looking kidney he has ever seen!”
The surgery was an absolute success, making the entire journey worth it. Now, Kasey has a new kidney, a beautiful color in her cheeks, so much more energy – and a brighter and healthier future. Bethany finds immense joy in making it all possible.
Mahatma Gandhi emphasized the act of selfless service with this quote, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Thank you, Bethany, for sharing your spare and being extraordinary!
Bethany encourages people to consider living donations. She would be happy to talk with anyone who is interested and wants to learn more about her story.