An Irish woman living in the US who was diagnosed with an incredibly rare kidney disease in 2020 was able to return to Ireland for her 60th birthday this year after receiving the "gift of life" from her youngest son, who signed up for a kidney donor swap program, called Paired Kidney Donations (PKD).
Laura Greene, a native of Athlone, in County Westmeath, who now lives in Connecticut, was diagnosed with Goodpasture Syndrome in September 2020. The disease attacks both the kidneys and the lungs and caused Greene to go into kidney failure, leaving her in need of a transplant.
Greene underwent four weeks of intensive dialysis to eradicate the disease after the initial diagnosis, with doctors at Greenwich Hospital, in Connecticut, hoping that function would return to her kidneys afterward.
The dialysis successfully prevented the disease from spreading to her lungs, saving her life, but doctors informed her that function would not return to her kidneys and that she would require a transplant.
Greene told IrishCentral that the diagnosis left her "shocked".
"Did I ever think about kidney failure? No, I don't think I did. I never even thought about people having transplants. It was never on my radar," Greene told IrishCentral.
Greene had to undergo at least 12 further months of dialysis to ensure that the disease had completely left her system before she received a transplant.
So for a full year, Greene received dialysis three times a week, making her appointments at 5:30 a.m. so that she could work remotely from her home in Connecticut. On the days that she didn't receive dialysis, Greene traveled to and from her office in New York.
"Covid actually did me a favor in that it allowed me to keep working," Greene told IrishCentral.
However, she was diagnosed with Goodpasture Syndrome at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic and recalled several lonely nights immediately after her diagnosis when her husband, Bob, and her three children Conor, Ashling, and Emmet were unable to visit her in hospital.
"That was just so tough. You really are going through it by yourself even though you have the support of everybody. There were a lot of Facetime calls."
After completing 12 months of dialysis, Greene needed to find a suitable kidney.
She said she would have been waiting up to four years for a kidney from a deceased donor and added that the idea of receiving a kidney in such a way was tinged with sadness because it meant that another family had suffered a loss.
"I think you're always going to feel bad for the family that lost a person to make you feel well. That's not to say I wouldn't have taken one. Of course, I would."
Greene's youngest son Emmet, 28, took a proactive approach to the long waiting time and made the "amazing" decision to give his mother a kidney.
However, Emmet soon discovered that he was not a compatible match.
Undeterred, he signed up for an innovative program called Paired Kidney Donations (PKD), which occurs between two pairs of donors and recipients.
The donors are not compatible with their respective recipient (in this case Emmet and Greene) but are compatible with the recipient of the other pair, allowing two transplants to take place simultaneously.
Emmet and Greene both underwent surgery at the Organ Transplantation department at Yale New Haven Hospital in Connecticut on July 7, 2022, while another donor and recipient underwent surgery in New York at the same time.
"They operated on the donors in the morning and the recipients in the afternoon. Thank God everything has been great since. It's been amazing," Greene told IrishCentral.
Emmet, who currently works as an investigator in the Boston District Attorney's office, was discharged from hospital within three days of the surgery and was back to work within a few weeks, while Greene was discharged a day after her son and said her recovery "wasn't very long".
"It was a big decision for him. I have two other children and they now laugh and say that Emmet took one for the team. They were ready to get tested if it didn't work out, but Emmet was pretty adamant that he was going to do it. He's amazing."
Greene said she highly recommends the PKD program, stating that it allows doctors to save two lives instead of one.
"As it turned out, I had a friend who was compatible. She was about to tell them that she was ready to donate her kidney, but they told her that they could take her kidney but only one person would get better. But if they took Emmet's, it's going to affect two lives, so we all agreed that Emmet would do it."
She added that having a living donor "makes such a difference" because both the donor and recipient will get better after the transplant takes place.
Greene traveled to Ireland in June 2023 to celebrate her 60th birthday in her native Athlone, traveling shortly before the one-year anniversary of the transplant.
She said the homecoming - her first since the fateful diagnosis in September 2020 - was an emotional one.
"It was amazing to have such a big crowd and to see everyone, just to be well and to be able to enjoy it. It was incredible. I never thought I was going to see it."
Greene added that her experience has taught her several lessons, including the importance of giving blood, which she believes saved her life.
"I don't know if people who donate blood really understand the impact they make by going to a blood drive. They're actually saving someone's life and I wonder if they realize what they're doing. Someone did it for me during Covid."
She also urged people to consider joining the live donor program or to at least become an organ donor.
"It's a really simple thing to tick a box on your license or carry a donor card. You can save more than one life. That's an amazing thing to do as well and it's something well worth thinking about."
Finally, Greene encouraged people to go to the doctor if they think something is wrong with them, adding that she left it too late to get assessed, which ultimately meant that her kidneys couldn't be saved.