ASHTABULA — The road to a new kidney came through Ashtabula for an Akron woman who was the beneficiary of Jodi van’t Veer’s willingness to step beyond herself to help a woman she barely knew.
Jodi van’t Veer was chatting with long-time friend, Betty Weakerly, last June when she found out Weakerly’s cousin’s wife was in need of a kidney.
Van’t Veer said she had offered a kidney to an Ashtabula friend 10 years ago, but there was no match. She casually told Weakerly she would do the tests to see if she was a match for the 71-year-old woman.
“Weeks and weeks later she [Weakerly] sent me a text,” van’t Veer said. She said she went to Mentor in August to do the initial blood work and talked with her husband and three daughters about the idea.
The family encouraged her to do what she felt was right and realized her strong-willed nature would probably lead her to offer a kidney. She said the Cleveland Clinic was also active in giving her opportunties to review her decision at many steps along the line.
“In October my mom and I went up to Cleveland Clinic for testing for two days,” van’t Veer said. She said the tests included psychological testing, dermatology review, an EKG and a cat scan just to name a few. She said the tests came back positive and a plan was developed, but a new twist entered the picture in November.
“Would you like to help another person,” van’t Veer said she was asked. She said a third family got involved because there was a possible match that would include van’t Veer’s kidney going to another woman and that woman’s son donating to Koch.
She agreed to the idea, but after further testing it was determined that van’t Veer and Koch had the better match.
A final plan was put into affect so surgery would occur on Feb. 4, but on Jan. 29 she came down with influenza and missed work for the second time in 16 years.
After consulting with the Cleveland Clinic team, surgery was delayed a week and on Feb. 12 the transplant was conducted.
“It was a really positive experience. Everyone was so nice,” van’t Veer said.
She said they leave the best kidney for the donor and it was determined both her kidneys were larger than most and although the procedure is laproscopic a c-section was necessary to remove the kidney.
“When you donate a kidney they kind of treat you like you are the best,” van’t Veer said. She said the first day after the surgery was not good.
“For 24 hours I was out of it. I felt horrible,” van’t Veer said.
Koch, conversely, said she felt good the first day.
“If anything comes out of this, it is that people realize the need for this,” van’t Veer said. She and Koch said people languish on transplant leads for long periods of time and some die waiting.
Van’t Veer said she is fortunate that she has sick time and will be out of work for four to six weeks.
Koch said she met van’t Veer a couple of years ago while camping in Ashtabula and was shocked about her willingness to consider a donation when the need was made evident last summer.
“I was very excited. This whole thing blew me away that she was willing to be tested. It is such a giving thing. I can’t explain how I feel,” Koch said. She said she is going to take great care of her new kidney.
“I just came from a check up. It is a wonderful kidney,” Koch said in a Friday telephone interview.
Koch said she incurred kidney damage from a prescription drug, but was taken by surprise when 10 months ago her doctor told her she would have to go on dialysis. She said she never felt bad except on the day of dialysis.
Dr. Alvin Wee, the surgeon who performed the kidney transplant, said it was amazing that van’t Veer was willing to consider helping a third family she didn’t know at all. He said many people are selfless and willing to give a kidney to a loved one, but to provide a new chance at life for someone not close to the donor shows real selflesness, he said.
“Being a donor she multiplied her affect. You can see the selflessness of Jodi,” Wee said.
Wee said it is important for potential donors to understand it is a safe surgery and life expectancy is not reduced, according to studies performed on those who have donated.
Van’t Veer said she has no regrets and if she had another kidney she would give it to a person in need.