A Modern Day Christmas Miracle

This is the story of a Christmas miracle, of the most precious and selfless of gifts, of heartfelt goodwill to others, and of the marvel of medical technology and compassion. This is also the story of Jessica Vincent and Ashlee Sandusky, co-workers at Guadalupe Regional Medical Center whose lives and families will now be forever intertwined by this Christmas miracle.

Ashlee Sandusky began working at GRMC in 2013 as a nurse aide in the Pre-Op and Post Anesthesia Care department. Shortly after she began her employment, her husband Dane found himself in need of emergency medical care when he was surprised by a large amount of blood in his urine. Their visit to the ER that day led to a diagnosis of polycystic kidney disease, news he dreaded to hear since his grandmother, mother, and several aunts and uncles had all died of complications from this hereditary, untreatable disease.

This new reality led to Dane becoming a patient and huge fan of Dr. Heather Banks, local nephrologist, who has steadfastly guided him through the management of this devastating disease. As a self-employed heating and air conditioning repairman, Dane’s profession often put him in physical and temperature-challenging conditions that were difficult to manage as his disease causes him to dehydrate quickly and to zap his energy. He notes that people have a hard time understanding that he is critically ill, since he looks physically fit and other than his kidneys had no other health conditions.
His kidneys continued to deteriorate, as verified by his continually worsening lab values.

By 2016 his low lab values made him a candidate for an organ donation. Ashlee was quick to offer her own kidney for her husband, and was delighted to learn that she was a match based on blood type and tissue compatibility. She underwent a series of tests, evaluations and assessments through the nationally recognized Methodist Specialty Transplant program in San Antonio. By July of 2018, they were planning the transplant of one of her kidneys to Dane the following month, when she received the devastating news that in fact she was diabetic and therefore ineligible to donate a kidney. The transplant team’s first priority is to ensure that any potential donor will be able to live a healthy life with only one kidney, so anyone with diabetes or kidney disease is disqualified to be a donor.

Several friends stepped up at this point, offering to become a donor and lifeline for Dane. One after another, hopes were raised and then dashed as candidate after candidate was rejected for reasons such as a previous kidney stone, another newly diagnosed diabetic, and another deemed to have insufficient financial stability to provide support during recovery. At this point, Ashlee and Dane were racing against the clock. Because only one potential donor can be tested at a time, and because each full scope screening requires a full month, each rejected candidate meant another precious month lost.

One of their neighborhood friends printed a T-shirt that read: We Need an Angel to donate a Kidney for our friend Dane, followed by Ashlee’s cell phone number. As Ashlee soon learned, “it is kind of weird but kind of awesome to receive a text from a perfect stranger offering to save your husband’s life.” Throughout these travails, Ashlee’s coworker Jessica Vincent asked for ongoing updates about Dane’s care. Jessica was influenced by GRMC well before she became an employee, as her mother (Kim Hyatt) worked as the nurse manager of the Medical Floor. Jessica began to work at the hospital in 2007, first as a PBX operator and then in a wide variety of jobs including health unit coordinator, nurse aide, and most recently Operating Room tech. As part of the “float pool”, she worked in every nursing department at the hospital. In the meantime, she has been training to become a respiratory therapist, with expected graduation in 2020.

Jessica explains that she has always felt a calling to be an organ donor, greatly influenced by both of her parents’ example of generosity, caring and recognition of all human beings as children of God. She had already committed to be a full organ donor upon her death, and is on the national bone marrow transplant registry, but as the proud mother of a nine year old son (Dillon) and as a recent newlywed (to husband Tim), she had been hesitant to consider kidney organ donation at this point in her life.

However, on a recent October night working together with Ashlee in the PACU, Jessica remembers hearing the voice of God nudging her – saying, at least try. That very night Jessica pulled up the transplant center’s on-line application form, and submitted her name as a potential donor for Dane. She went a step further, noting that if her kidney was not a perfect match for Dane, she was still willing to offer it as an open donation for any candidate in need.

Events happened quickly after this point. Jessica was called by the transplant team as a high likelihood match, given her rare O positive blood type and health status. She proceeded to have a full day interview with the entire transplant team at Methodist, and found herself excited without any reservations about the prospect of being a donor.

The week before Thanksgiving, Ashlee called the transplant department yet again to inquire about next steps. A decision was needed whether to schedule vascular surgery at GRMC by Dr. Nash, in order to prepare Dane for dialysis. She was met with a strange response, with the transplant team leader telling Ashlee, “you need to talk to the donor”. Puzzled, Ashlee went immediately to find Jessica, who informed her that she had a voice message on her phone, she had not listened to it and suggested they listen together. Together, they listened and heard: Jessica was cleared for surgery. Dane would receive a new kidney. Tears flowed.

As of this writing, Dane still has not met Jessica. The two couples have made plans for dinner two days after Christmas, where Jessica and Tim will meet Dane for the first time, and where Dane and Ashlee will try to fathom how on earth to thank this angel for the gift of a lifetime, the gift of life. Dane jokes, I figure the least I can do is take them to dinner!

On January 9th, the four will meet again at Methodist Transplant Specialty hospital, which is rated as number one in the nation for kidney transplants, with a 92% success rate. Jessica’s left kidney will be removed in one OR, while Dane waits in the adjacent OR, ready to receive this unimaginable gift. He will be discharged with three kidneys, one healthy and two barely functioning. Jessica will be discharged after two days in the hospital, with one kidney. She will have 6-8 weeks recovery period at home, allowing her body to adjust and heal. Dane will have 3 months to recover, allowing his body to adjust to having a healthy kidney function again, and allowing Ashlee, their five children and five grandchildren to celebrate a new life with a healthy husband, father and grandfather in their future.

Jessica states that she loves working in the Operating Room, because “that’s where miracles happen”. She will indeed be the miracle that happens on January 9th. She hopes this story encourages others to consider organ donation, and points out that there are currently over 150,000 Americans on a waiting list for a new donor kidney. When asked why she made this amazing leap to help someone she has never even met, she responds, “because I would hope someone else would do the same if my family member needed it.” She notes that England has started a public service campaign urging people to donate a kidney: “You’ve got two, you only need one!” She has no qualms about having only one kidney, including her hopes to have more children. She is also convinced and takes comfort in knowing that this entire journey has been part of God’s plan.

Furthermore, she feels this is her thank-you to Guadalupe Regional Medical Center, who has supported her for the last 11 years in her ever-expanding career as a health care professional. She notes she will never want to work anywhere else, that her friends at work have become her family, and that this is a story not about her heroism but about the wonder of medical technology and human compassion joining together to create a true Christmas miracle.

Ashlee and her husband will forever be grateful for Jessica’s amazing gift and for her family’s support of her decision. They are indebted to GRMC for the care that has been provided Dane here, for the excellent and compassionate care they have received from Dr. Banks, and for the wonderful caring co-workers who have supported them throughout this difficult journey.

From L to R: Ashlee Sandusky, Jessica Vincent

 

For those wanting to learn more about organ donation, please review the extensive information available through the Texas Organ Sharing Alliance website: www.TOSA1.org, or at www.donatelifetexas.org. The San Antonio Specialty Transplant Center’s website is www.livingdonor-methodistsa.com. Another way to provide a life saving donation is through bone marrow donation; learn more at www.bethematch.org. Be someone’s Miracle!