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From Stranger to Friend to Living Organ Donor

By James Monteleone
Journal Staff Writer
          Debbie Sparke has no regrets about successfully donating a kidney to a stranger she met less than a year ago.
        In fact, she wishes she could do it again.
        Last week, Sparke, 58, completed the organ donation process to give a kidney to her new friend, Polly Azar, 52. After surgery last Thursday at Presbyterian Hospital went well, the women are recovering together at Azar's home in Albuquerque.
        Sparke had hoped to donate an organ to someone in need after seeing a friend die while waiting for a heart transplant in 1985. The Raton woman got her opportunity after overhearing Azar — a stranger at the time — tell a mutual friend about her kidney condition last August.
        Since then, the two women have become close friends. For Sparke, seeing her kidney make Azar healthier was as rewarding as she had hoped.
        "I've kind of achieved a life dream, and seen the results of it," Sparke said. "Just seeing her in the hospital starting to turn pink instead of her dark grayish color — wow, my kidney did that. That was just awesome."
        For Azar, the gray skin tone was a side effect of dysfunctional kidneys caused by a genetic condition. Azar said she felt healthier almost immediately after the transplant. Doctors have since noted how well Sparke's kidney matched Azar's body.
        Both women are expecting recovery from the operation will take another six weeks.
        "I'm totally relieved now because it's over, and I'm feeling pretty good," Azar said.
        Before the operation, Azar was receiving overnight dialysis treatments three nights a week. That meant limited travel and a greatly restricted diet.
        Thanks to the new kidney, Azar is done with dialysis and can safely eat almost anything. However, Azar will have to take anti-rejection medication for the rest of her life.
        Both women will have to undergo routine blood tests to ensure their single kidneys are operating well.
        Now, they plan to work together to advocate for organ donation in an attempt to help someone else.
        "It's been a remarkable experience. If I could do it again, I would in a heartbeat," Sparke said.
       



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