When Claudia Guzman learned that her sister’s kidneys were failing, she immediately volunteered to donate one of hers.
“I said, ‘You need a new kidney? Alright, take mine,’” Guzman told her sister, Maria Reyes. “I wasn’t going to allow her to go through something like that, to watch her deteriorate, when I knew there was something I could do to help.”
Each June, Sharp Memorial Hospital honors all "living donors" like Guzman who donated a kidney at the hospital the year before. The annual Living Donor Celebration recognizes how these priceless gifts transform the life of a family member, a spouse, a friend — even a stranger.
Without living donors, people with kidney failure often wait 5 to 10 years for an organ from a deceased donor — suffering through grueling kidney dialysis in the meantime, or dying themselves during the wait. Nationwide, more than 96,000 people are waiting for a new kidney.
Reyes, 51, was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease in her early 20s, a genetic disorder that also affects three of her siblings. Reyes’ kidney function remained relatively stable over the next three decades, but started failing more rapidly last year.
With the threat of dialysis on the horizon, Guzman, 42, began the evaluation process to donate a kidney to her sister. Unfortunately, Guzman was not compatible because Reyes was found to have an incredibly high level of antibodies in her blood, which could have attacked her sister’s donated kidney.
The sisters turned to the National Kidney Registry, which matches incompatible donor-recipient pairs across the country and coordinates transplant chains started by altruistic donors — people who donate a kidney to stranger in need of a transplant.
In September 2015, Reyes and Guzman were part of a transplant chain that began with an altruistic donor who ultimately saved five lives. Reyes received her new kidney from a transplant center in Pittsburgh. Guzman’s donated kidney went to someone in need in Boston.
Nine months later, Reyes said she feels great and is looking forward to the arrival of her second grandchild later this year.
Guzman said she feels inspired to share her living-donor experience in hopes that others are inspired to donate — especially in the Hispanic community.“It’s not something that’s really talked about,” Guzman said. “I don’t think my sister would have felt comfortable asking me for a kidney.”
“But I see her now, I see how amazing she’s doing, and I know I would do it again if I could.”
For the media: To talk with a Sharp doctor about living kidney donation, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at email@example.com.
This story was updated in July 2017 to reflect the number of people waiting for a new kidney.