Andi Poiner has a message for anyone who fears donating a kidney. “God gave us two but you only need one. So, I can’t jump up and down enough to say, ‘Share your Spare.’”
Jose Mercado hopes someone is listening.
A recent chat with the two advocates for living donations is a study in contrasts. Poiner, 51, is in her second career, having already retired after 20 years as a medic in the military. During the week, she lives in Nashville, where she is a funeral director/embalmer. On the weekends, she joins husband Darryl in Martin, where they run a small farm for rescue animals. Her energy and enthusiasm for her cause is contagious. The idea of her actually jumping up at any moment seems more like a prediction than a mere possibility.
Meanwhile Mercado takes in the room and silently absorbs yet another thing happening to him in what has already consumed a third of his 24 years. Diagnosed with kidney failure at 16, (due, it’s thought, to have been the result of a childhood issue), he has been on dialysis for three years now. His life is filled with trips to Dyersburg three days a week for the treatment that allows him to work and spend as much time as possible with wife Kenia and 7-month-old Lucas Alexander in their Martin home.
The two met via a mutual friend who knew Poiner donated one of her kidneys three months ago and thought Mercado would find hope in her generosity. But Poiner wants to provide more than hope; she wants to find the young father a kidney.
A native of Guadalajaro Mexico, Mercado and his family lived in Martin during his elementary and middle school years where, he says with one of the few grins he shared during the interview, “I made it into the paper a few times” due to his soccer prowess. “I was pretty good,” he confessed when prompted.
At 16 and back in Mexico, his active life slowed considerably as his health declined. Tired and on a restricted diet, he began to feel less like an average teen and was often embarrassed by the differences.
Finally, in March 2010 he was diagnosed with Stage 4 kidney failure. Complications with care in Mexico brought him back to Martin and three years ago he began his Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday dates with the machine that provides life-saving cleansing of his blood, the job his kidneys are supposed to perform.
Though hampered by the schedule, Mercado is focused more on what he can do than what he cannot. He works. He wants to go to college. He walks with wife and his child.
And he waits.
An A-positive donor would change everything, he knows. And while he is desperate for a kidney, he wishes ill on no one. A living donor, like Poiner, would be ideal.
“If someone is a good candidate but different blood type, they can donate and start a domino effect,” interjects Poiner as talk of donation specifics begins.
“They can donate on his behalf,” she added of the living donation practice that allows for options when a family or friend is willing to donate but has an incompatible blood type with the recipient. The gift of one kidney can set up a paired exchange or a chain that ultimately results in a kidney for their loved one.
Mercado’s mother, father, sister and wife would all like to donate but each one has a health issue that prohibits it. So the young father is now hoping more donors like Poiner investigate living organ donations.
“I want to be a voice telling people that it’s possible to do this and not even realize you’ve done it,” said Poiner, regarding the ease she encountered in her process of kidney donation.
While she acknowledges that the donor does feel minimal effects post-surgery – she was tired for up to two months after – she said she spent limited time in the hospital for the operation.
“My surgery was at 10:30 on Tuesday morning and at 8 a.m. on Thursday I was discharged,” she noted of the procedure that included a full medical examination pre-surgery and follow-ups, all paid by the recipient’s insurance.
Poiner’s road to advocacy started with prayer. A Catholic, she determined that this Lent season she wanted to give something rather than the traditional act of giving up an item. Her prayers on the matter prompted her to look into helping kidney patients. So she organized the collection of items for 71 dialysis patients who receive treatment in the building where she works.
Upon delivery of the bags filled with socks and notepads, she says she thought, “‘Okay, here’s my Lent. I’ve heard your word. I’ve done my job.’ And then two days later I see that on Facebook where Mark is talking about needing a kidney and I didn’t even hesitate. I didn’t ever think about it.”
The post from high school friend Mark Hostettler in her native Ohio was alerting other friends and family that he had been put on a transplant list … for a new kidney. Poiner says she immediately privately messaged him: “I’m A positive. Are you A positive?” And then she went to bed.
Her Lent reading the next day served as foreshadowing for the events to come: “You might feel him [God] nudging you to contact an old friend or to help out a neighbor. Go ahead and follow through, and see how God blesses that choice.” The reading concluded with the prayer: “Lord, help me to see each choice as an opportunity to honor you. Help me to choose life!”
When Hostettler responded that day that indeed that was his blood type, Poiner became a big believer in following the “twinges” sent one’s way.
“I just knew it was meant to be. I’ve talked to a couple of other kidney donors, and they’ve had the same kind of story. They just felt moved to do it. So if you feel this little twinge, there might be a reason,” Poiner underscores.
Everything went so smoothly and seemed so inevitable that Poiner says it wasn’t until months later when she had lunch with her old friend that it dawned on her. I thought, “You’ve got my kidney.” And, after further reflection, she came to a peaceful realization, “I feel like I was nurturing his kidney, and then it was time to give it to him.”
As a result of his transplant, Mark has returned to the active life he shared with wife Angela and twin 13-year-olds, including supporting his daughter’s softball and son’s baseball games.
“I just think of all that Jose could potentially miss out on as his child gets older,” adds Poiner, “and it tugs on my heart strings.”
Though she works as a liaison with the Tennessee Donor Services, Poiner confesses living organ donation was not on the top of her to-do list. Now, having experienced the low level of impact on her life and the life-changing impact on her friend’s, she wants to do what she can to shift donation to the top of others’.
“I know that there is somebody out there. I know that there is. We just need that person to feel and to come forward. To act on the twinge,” she concluded.
For more information on donating to Mercado, call 901-516-7737.
For more information on kidney donations and an update on a child the Press introduced readers to who continues to wait for a kidney, see the Sept. 13 issue of the Press.