In her role as a critical care nurse at Sharp Grossmont Hospital, it's not uncommon for Eunice MacDonald to care for patients once it's determined they will be organ donors, preserving the organs until they are carefully procured.
A nurse at Sharp Grossmont for 27 years, she would eventually find herself on the other side of the organ transplant process. At age 38, an illness led to tests that discovered protein in her urine, and a diagnosis of focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, or FSGS.
FSGS is a chronic and progressive kidney condition. "The disease is so rare that I had never heard of it in approximately seven years of college, and not many other nurses are aware of it either," MacDonald says.
She resigned herself to one day being a dialysis patient. While her sister could have been her kidney donor, MacDonald says she didn't want her to go through life with just one kidney, in the event she too would develop the condition.
FSGS patients are monitored for their glomerular filtration rate (GFR), with a GFR of 60 or above considered normal. "For 16 years I watched my GFR numbers go down," says MacDonald. However, patients are not considered for a transplant until their numbers are in the single digits, signaling severe kidney failure.
"On the day my donor had his accident, my last GFR had been a nine."
"The phone rang at 3 pm one afternoon," she recalls. "A nurse at Sharp Memorial called to say, 'Eunice MacDonald, we have a kidney for you.'"
A man in the Los Angeles area had perished in an accident, and within two hours MacDonald called her son-in-law to pick up her grandchildren — who she was watching at the time — hurriedly packed a suitcase and arrived at Sharp Memorial Hospital. "I said a prayer when I was being admitted," says MacDonald, who had long feared she'd have to forfeit her treasured nursing career if her condition worsened and dialysis became a part of her daily life.
Her transplant took one-and-a-half hours. While the donor was anonymous, MacDonald was eventually encouraged to write a letter to his family. "I was crying, and I felt really bad for his wife," she recalls. "I did, however, tell her that I had often taken care of kidney donors myself, which I hoped helped ease her pain a little." The wife wrote back and shared details of her husband, which MacDonald still cherishes.
Kareem Dally, Sharp Grossmont's manager of critical care, says the transplant MacDonald received allows her to continue to pay it forward in her work. "Eunice has made an infinite number of meaningful connections with her patients, their families, her colleagues and physicians," says Dally. "Her positive attitude is contagious to everyone around her, and she is one of the finest frontline nurses Sharp Grossmont has to offer."
During April's National Donate Life Month, MacDonald encourages people who may have not yet decided whether to be an organ donor to educate themselves on the process and maybe even get in touch with a recipient or the family of a loved one who was a donor.
"Someone changed my life in a way I almost can't describe," says MacDonald, now 60 and vibrant as ever. "I may have missed being able to help care for my 86-year-old mother, participating almost daily in the life of my grandchildren, and, of course, doing what I love: being a nurse at Sharp Grossmont."
Register to be an eye, organ and tissue donor at donatelife.net/register.