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A perfect stranger

NAPERVILLE, Ill. – Lisa Schumacher didn’t know Pam Cassidy when she first heard the Yorkville woman needed a kidney transplant.

In February, Schumacher walked in on a conversation Dr. Brett Cassidy, an obstetrician-gynecologist, was having with two nurses about how his wife’s kidney – a transplanted organ she’d received in 2012 – was failing and a transplant the only option.

Schumacher, a labor and delivery nurse at Naperville’s Edward Hospital, decided that day she would offer to give one of her kidneys to Pam Cassidy.

Brett Cassidy told her there was paperwork and testing to be done. She gave him the completed paperwork the next day, and then underwent weeks of testing at Northwestern Hospital’s Kovler Organ Transplantation Center.

The surgery was performed on a Friday. Pam Cassidy was up the next day, sent home on Sunday, and at one of her daughters’ softball games by Monday.

Recovery for Schumacher, a Plainfield woman, was a little slower. She felt “back to normal” after about three weeks, but took eight weeks of disability.

The two have since become friends, partially because there are similarities in their lives. Before Pam Cassidy married and had children, she was a labor and delivery nurse. Both have teenage children. Pam Cassidy is 44 and Schumacher is 47.

For Cassidy, getting a second kidney transplant was a bit of a miracle. She was diagnosed at 21 with IgA nephropathy, an autoimmune disease. For some people – including her mother, two aunts and an uncle – the disease causes end-stage kidney failure.

Her first transplant also was from a woman she barely new – another nurse. The two women’s daughters were in the same dance class.

The disease that ravaged her own kidneys did the same with the donor kidney. Cassidy had to restart dialysis twice a week for 4 1/2 hours each time. Dialysis is necessary when the kidneys no longer function at all, she said.

Cassidy’s doctors at Northwestern had said she could wait up to eight years to receive a cadaver kidney, about the same amount of time she could survive on dialysis.

“I figured I was toast,” Cassidy said. A live donor was her best hope.

Schumacher asked her fiancé – now husband – and her children if they were OK with her donating a kidney and needing help during recovery.

“I said to my kids, ‘If I couldn’t do everything with you that I wanted to do with you, I would want someone to help me out if I was having a hard time,'” Schumacher said.

“I wanted to do it. It was a time in my life to do something for somebody,” she said.

“I am not saying that it wasn’t a big deal, but it was a no-brainer for me. It made such a difference for her,” Schumacher said.

Cassidy won’t know – despite regular blood tests – how long this kidney will last. The disease may attack again.

She now has four kidneys – her first two, the first donation and now the second. She has incision scars on each side of her body.

Both women encouraged anyone willing to donate a kidney to look into the possibility or at least to register as a donor in case of death.

“We got lucky that I walked into the conversation and decided to do something nice for somebody,” Schumacher said.

Cassidy said she’s grateful for the gift she’s been given.

“She is special people. If you run into this person, you had better be nice to her. But if we can get one person to donate a kidney … then it is worth it,” Cassidy said. “There is no reason not to do it.”

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