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A Swap for a Co-worker
Employees from human resources and facilities come together for a kidney paired donation.

blank Robert Imes and Pamela Paulk three days before surgery. “There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is one of those cases where I will get so much more from life for having given this gift,” says Paulk.
Robert Imes and Pamela Paulk three days before surgery. “There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is one of those cases where I will get so much more from life for having given this gift,” says Paulk.

Although it seemed fortuitous for Robert Imes, the decision to donate one of her kidneys was hardly a sudden idea on Pamela Paulk’s part. She had been in the OR to watch surgeon Robert Montgomery perform a kidney transplant here 10 years ago. In her personal life, she had seen the difference that kidney transplantation made in the lives of two of her friends.  And at work, she had been asked to speak at a celebration for minority donors.

“There comes a point in my life where I can’t talk about something and not do it,” says the vice president of human resources for The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System. “I can’t say, This is important, this is something people should think about doing, but then not be willing to do it myself.”

Montgomery asked her if she was willing to be an altruistic donor, to give her kidney to anyone who needed it.

“I thought about that and I decided I needed a connection,” says Paulk.

Then it happened that Robert Imes, a painter/mechanic in Facilities and a union delegate for 1199E whom Paulk had worked with throughout her career here on employee issues and union negotiations, was diagnosed with kidney disease.

“I was out for about 10 months and on the first day I came back into work, I ran into Pamela on Phipps 4,” recalls Imes. “She said, ‘Can I do anything for you?’ I said, well, I could use a kidney. She said, ‘You can use one of mine.’”

That wasn’t the only piece of good luck that Imes would chance upon. It helped not a little that, since Paulk was not a perfectly compatible donor, he worked at the hospital that had performed one of the first kidney paired donation transplants in the United States in 2001. Since then, Hopkins has pioneered in increasingly complex “domino donor” kidney transplants.

On June 22, Paulk and Imes participated in the first 16-patient, multicenter kidney transplant. It was the first overnight hospitalization for both of them. Imes received a kidney from a donor at Integris Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City; Paulk’s donation went to a patient at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit also participated in the exchange. The procedure takes a group of donor-recipient pairs who are not compatible by blood or tissue and matches them with other pairs in a similar predicament.

Paulk and Imes, both 55, felt a strong connection days before their surgery. “Even though he’s not physically getting my kidney,” says Paulk, “as far as I’m concerned, he is. He’ll be like my brother.”

Imes was like-minded because “without Pamela donating, I still might be on the list to get another kidney from somebody else.”

Both patients are now recovering at home. Paulk, who had a laparoscopic nephrectomy performed by Montgomery, expects to be out of work for four to six weeks; Imes, who had an open procedure by surgeon Andrew Singer, will be off the job for two to three months.

Paulk is keeping a blog of her experience (http://pameladonates.blogspot.com) to increase awareness of the need for donations. Some 84,000 people in the United States alone are currently waiting for kidneys; only about 6,000 people donate kidneys annually.

“It’s a lot easier for me,” says Paulk. “He’s got to get that new kidney working and functioning and get adjusted to it. He needs a lot of medication to keep from rejecting it. He clearly has the hard part.”

–Mary Ellen Miller

 

 

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