Michelle (donor) and Debra

Forever Friends!

Michelle & Debra

Michelle and Debra had been friends for over 40 years, first meeting when they were neighbors in the same apartment building. Debra’s father passed away from kidney disease. Both Michelle and Debra knew in the 1990’s that Debra was going to need a kidney transplant due to this hereditary kidney disease (uromodulin kidney disease). Debra started looking for a living kidney donor, and Michelle remarked, “I told you I would be your donor; how often do you get to do something for someone you love and care for?” Michelle’s mother had some concerns; Michelle assured her family (including three adult sons) that the UCSF transplant team would be looking out for her. 

During the workup at UCSF, Michelle learned that she matched 4 out of 6 antigens with Debra. (HLA typing is also called “tissue typing” and is used to determine the suitability of the transplant. Rarely do kidney donors/recipients have 6/6 matching.) And Michelle passed all of the medical tests.  Meanwhile, Debra’s numbers (lab values for creatinine and GFR) were getting worse.

By 2012, both women knew that the transplant was coming up, and indeed, it occurred in 2014. The surgery to remove Michelle’s kidney was done laparoscopically; she has no significant scars. There are two tiny scars and a larger one through which they removed the kidney. Michelle had no financial expenses as the recipients’ insurance paid for donors’ costs. UCSF gave her free parking and were always very respectful, giving Michelle more than one chance to change her mind. Michelle works for an understanding small landscape contractor in Petaluma who paid her full salary while Michelle recuperated for 4-5 weeks.


Michelle took the prescribed pain pills regularly – a very important thing to remember. Since she lived alone, another girlfriend served as her nurse! One thing, Michelle never recovered her energy level from before the surgery; it could be she was getting older. She still hikes but gets tired. And after all, the surgery did occur when Michelle was 58 years old.

Michelle and Debra did the recommended walking together after surgery and earned special T-shirts that UCSF awards to those who complete the prescribed mileage.