The Gift of Life

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 Front row: Donna Foster and Kerry “Boo” Conrad; back row: sister Paula Conrad Todd, Donna Conrad Russell, and Kahne Conrad Hamilton
By Elva Jo Crawford
    March is celebrated each year by the National Kidney Foundation as National Kidney Month.  But for Donna Conrad Russell, March 21st has been the big celebration day for her for the past nine years.  That is the anniversary of the day her sister Kahne Conrad Hamilton donated one of her kidneys to her.
    Of the six siblings in Donna’s family, three of them inherited a kidney disease called Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD).  PKD is the 4th leading cause of kidney failure in the United States.  By middle age, approximately half of the people with PKD will go into renal failure and require either dialysis or kidney transplant.  The Conrads’ father,  Richard “Dickey” Conrad, and their grandmother,  Hazel Conrad, both died of PKD, with no option of kidney transplant.
    Donna’s sister Kahne was one of the three Conrad siblings that did not have the disease and was sure she wanted to donate one of her kidneys to her sister.  She was found to be a match, and when the time was right in 2003, Donna Russell was able to bypass dialysis and go straight to kidney transplantation to remedy her failing kidneys.  The surgery took place at Ochsner Hospital in New Orleans, and everything went smoothly.
    Getting a kidney donor for their brother Kerry “Boo” Conrad when he needed it several years later was not as easy.  He was on kidney dialysis for a year and a half before a compatible donor was found, someone unknown to him or his family.
    His donor, Donna Foster, a para-professional in the pre-K Special Needs Classroom at Eastside Elementary in Denham Springs, just happened to be in the teachers’ lounge in December 2010 when Boo’s other sister, Paula Conrad Todd, was telling some ladies about her brother’s situation.  Donna Foster and Paula Todd did not really know each other then, having never worked in the same classroom together.  Paula teaches P.E. at Eastside.  But when Donna heard about Paula’s brother needing a kidney, she thought that donating a kidney to him was something she could do.  So she talked to Paula about it and decided to proceed with testing for compatibility.  She sent for a packet from Tulane Medical Center and started the process of having blood work done as well as other tests.  She says her employer, Eastside Elementary, was just great about letting her take off when necessary and worked with her schedule to help her be able to make the transplant a reality.  She was a match.
    On July 13, 2011, at Ochsner Hospital in New Orleans, Donna Foster donated one of her kidneys to Boo Conrad.  He says it is the best surgery he’s ever had and now, eight months out from the surgery, he says he is daily getting his health and energy back.  Donna Foster says she is well-recovered from her surgery.  And another wonderful thing happened.  About two months into the screening process for kidney compatibility, she says she and Boo met over coffee.  Eventually their friendship blossomed and they are now dating.  The Conrads say they consider her family.
    Paula, the third sibling with PKD, says she is healthy now and not in need of dialysis or a transplant at this time.  Both Donna Russell and Boo Conrad must be on immunosuppressive drugs for life and plan to faithfully take them for life to minimize the chances of rejection of their donated kidneys.  They are also careful with their general health, trying to eat healthy food, exercise, and watch their blood pressure.
    Donna Foster has a message to healthy people who might consider donating a kidney.  She says, “Remember, you only need ONE!”