Unable to donate kidney to a family member in need, Park City firefighter gives one to a stranger
Donation is ‘the most fulfilling experience’ of his life
When Park City Fire District engineer Henry Evans learned his cousin was in need of a kidney, he knew immediately he would volunteer to donate one of his own. That cousin had been in renal failure for some time, and when they became a candidate for donation last summer, Evans went straight to get tested for compatibility.
Unfortunately, it was not to be.
“Turns out I’m AB, which is the rarest blood type,” Evans said. “I can only donate to other ABs but I can receive from any other blood type. It’s the selfish blood.”
Evans said the news was deflating because he assumed he would be able to start the donation process right away.
While Evans was unable to help his cousin, the idea of donating a kidney stayed with him.
“I was originally inspired to be a donor by my amazing wife who donated a kidney to her aunt,” he said. “Watching her and her aunt go through the process kind of cemented in my mind that if the opportunity ever arose I would not hesitate to be a donor.”
When Evans looked further, he came across the option of non-directed kidney donation — essentially donating a kidney without knowing who will receive it.
“I had never heard of non-directed donation until I started this process,” he said. “Once I realized I could still donate to someone despite not being able to help my family member directly, it was really a no-brainer. While I obviously can’t directly donate or help my cousin get a kidney, this was at least a way to pare down the recipient registry and help a deserving stranger get off of dialysis in the process.”
Testing and more testing
In August, Evans reached out to the University of Utah’s transplant program and was set up with a living donor nurse coordinator, Liss Livingston.
“She was essentially my advocate and coach for the entire process,” he said. “She is an absolutely incredible person who has dedicated her career to renal transplant.”
After the initial screening process, Evans was subjected to a battery of tests.
“When I say ‘battery’ I mean they pretty much test you for any possible health condition a person could have,” he said. “Their priority is ensuring that the donor lives the same healthy life they would have had they not donated. If there is even the tiniest red flag in your health you are not approved to donate.”
Evans was approved, and the process of finding a recipient began. Once one was located and a surgery date set in late January, Evans said his “job was basically to stay as healthy as possible.”
‘Inspired and excited’
As the date of the surgery neared, Evans said he felt confident in his decision.
“Of course, they give you right up until you’re under anesthesia to pull out but I never even entertained that,” he said. “There truly wasn’t a day where I started second guessing the decision.”
Evans said he’d done his research and knew he’d be able to lead the same life as before with one kidney. And with the exception of a couple of nights in the hospital and soreness for several days after the operation, the experience was relatively easy.
“I’m on very strict lifting restrictions until the end of March, but I have otherwise resumed life as usual,” he said. “I’m hoping to be back on shift by March 27.”
Source of inspiration
Evans’ wife, Lisa Wilkinson Evans, said she was hesitant about her husband’s decision, even as someone who had been through the process herself. Her aunt went into renal failure 10 years ago, so she saw what it was like to be on dialysis.
“It’s a brutal way to live,” Wilkinson Evans said. “It is multiple times every week for multiple hours that you are hooked up to a machine.”
When she got tested, she and her aunt were a match, and once the transplant was over, Wilkinson Evans said the change in her aunt was immediate.
“After our surgery I could see her color already getting better,” she said. “It was the most amazing experience to be part of. I wish I could put into words how life-changing it is for not only the recipient but the donor.”
Respect for anonymity
Evans said he doesn’t know the identity of the kidney recipient, and he did not want the date and location of his surgery publicized in order to shield his identity from the recipient. Not because he doesn’t want to know the recipient, but out of respect for that person.
“We have not been in contact,” he said. “Both parties have to agree and I am leaving that decision up to the recipient. I have no expectations. All I know is that the recipient is doing very well and that’s really all that matters to me.”
‘If I had an extra kidney I’d sign right back up’
Evans said he has no regrets about the decision to donate his kidney, and would do it again if he could. He called it “the most fulfilling experience of (his) life.”
“It’s very hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t gone through it,” he said. “From start to finish the entire process has just been so uplifting. There are really good people out there who work tirelessly to help people find kidneys and livers, and it’s hard to put into words how special and amazing those people are.”
More than anything, Evans said he wanted to share his story not for recognition, but to raise awareness about kidney donation and perhaps inspire someone else.
“Understandably, the thought of parting with a vital organ is very daunting,” he said. “However, I truly believe there are plenty of people out there who would step up to donate if they were made aware of the minimal risks from and incredible benefit of being a living donor.
“You can literally save a life at the cost of being mildly inconvenienced for a month or two.”
Evans encouraged anyone who thinks they might be interested to look into it.
“I really hope more people start to put their name in the donor hat as there are hundreds of thousands of deserving patients in need of a kidney right now.”
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Utah’s legislative general session is set to end on Friday, and if history is any indicator, there will be a flurry of floor amendments and last-minute changes for county officials to monitor.