MARQUETTE - When Derrick Fries, a registered nurse at Marquette General Hospital, needed a new kidney he didn't have to look far to find a donor.
Amanda Beerman, his friend and co-worker at MGH, donated one of her kidneys to him about a year ago in an operation at University of Wisconsin - Madison Hospital. Beerman said she had no hesitation in donating.
"There wasn't much of a decision," she said. "You're a match to somebody who needs a kidney to have a quality of life or to live and so the bigger question was not 'what if I do it?' but 'what if I don't do it?'"
Amanda Beerman, left, donated her kidney to Derrick Fries, her friend and co-worker at Marquette General Hospital, about a year ago. (Journal photo by Christopher Diem)
Fries has a history of kidney problems. In 1995 he was diagnosed with glomerulonephritis, a type of kidney disease that damages the kidneys' ability to remove waste and excess fluids. In 1997 he received a kidney transplant from his mother, Gail Urbiha.
But over the next 12 years, periodic tests revealed that the transplanted kidney was slowly failing. Fries knew he needed another operation and started kidney dialysis in January, 2009.
Beerman volunteered to be tested and she turned out to be a near perfect match.
"There wasn't much of a decision. You're a match to somebody who needs a kidney to have a quality of life or to live and so the bigger question was not 'what if I do it?' but 'what if I don't do it?'"
- Amanda Beerman, kidney donator
Fries said there's no way of knowing how long Beerman's kidney will work for him but he hoped at least 20 years.
"The way they manage people now has evolved so much over the last 20 years that kidneys that are getting put in today hopefully will last longer than the ones they put in 10 years ago," Beerman said.
People donating kidneys have to go through a rigorous screening process including blood work, antibody tests, psychological evaluation, EKG test, X-ray test, a physical exam and a CT scan.
Beerman said in the past kidney donors had a very extensive surgery with a significant incision across the lower abdomen. But the majority of surgeries these days involve minimally invasive procedures.
"Now, over 90 percent of kidney donors are able to have a laparoscopic procedure done where (surgeons) go in, make four little instrument holes, they detach the kidney from all the vessels and nerves and everything that need to be taken off around it. They make a little incision and are able to take the kidney out, just these little holes and one little incision," Beerman said, adding that recovery time is much faster.
Following Fries' transplant operation, he was monitored for signs of kidney rejection and Beerman completely recovered without any complications. She said she was able to go on a vacation to Florida just 10 days later.
She said many people may not realize that donation surgery has changed and that may keep people from donating.
In addition, Beerman said kidney donors have less of a chance of having kidney problems in their life compared to the average population because they've been screened so stringently prior to donating.
Beerman said she's often asked why she would give her kidney to a friend when someone in her immediate family may need a kidney transplant in the future.
"I can't base my decision whether or not to donate on the what ifs that might never happen in the future," she said, adding that if anyone in her immediate family were to need a kidney there would be two families to step forward and get tested for donation - hers and Fries'.
"I'm thankful that I had Amanda," Fries said. "You can never really thank someone for a gift like that."
Fries encouraged people, who know someone that needs a kidney transplant, to get tested and see if they are a match. He said the best way to start the donation process is to tell the person they want to help. For more information about organ donation, visit www.donatelife.net.
"I'm a firm believer of karma," Beerman said. "You want something for other people that you would want for yourself."
Christopher Diem can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.