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Altruistic kidney donation kicks off chain of giving

Oct. 13, 2016, 8:29 AM

Altruistic donor Andrea Pierson, second from right, received a game ball during the recent Vanderbilt-Florida football game as part of the Gift of Life Tailgate honoring local living kidney donors. On hand were, from left, her husband, James Pierson, mother, Sue Colvin, and sister, Heather McDowell. (photo by Jeff Hanie/IMG)
Altruistic donor Andrea Pierson, second from right, received a game ball during the recent Vanderbilt-Florida football game as part of the Gift of Life Tailgate honoring local living kidney donors. On hand were, from left, her husband, James Pierson, mother, Sue Colvin, and sister, Heather McDowell. (photo by Jeff Hanie/IMG)

When Mount Juliet resident Andrea Pierson signed up as an altruistic kidney donor a year ago, she could not have imagined her gift would result in the donation of seven life-saving kidney transplants.

Pierson, 44, contacted Vanderbilt University Medical Center in 2015 to request a testing kit in hopes of being a match for a friend’s relative. She was not. But Transplant Center coordinators asked if she was interested in being placed on a national registry for kidney donors.

Her agreement to be listed has impacted lives in Georgia, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio, Mexico and the Philippines, so far.

“It has been amazing,” said Pierson. “When I started this process, I thought I was just going to try to donate to my friend’s cousin, but then I ended up helping someone I don’t even know. My giving to that person allowed their intended donor to give to another recipient and it just kept going.

“It made my day to hear the impact my one donation has had. My heart is just overflowing. I know that people’s lives have improved and been impacted, but I am the one who feels blessed.”

Pierson’s donation on April 21 at Vanderbilt was a part of what is called a paired exchange that resulted in a domino effect, or a kidney donor chain.

Essentially, Pierson kicked off a chain that created an opportunity for endless recipient-donor pairing.

“The original donor is kind of like the key that opens the door,” said Dana Blayney, R.N., living donor coordinator at the Vanderbilt Transplant Center. “That one person, who wants to donate out of the goodness of their heart, is pretty much what everyone is waiting for in order for these chains to happen.

“Sometimes it can take a year before we finally know who all was impacted. It can go on for quite a while.”

This is Vanderbilt’s longest kidney chain to date. The center typically participates in three paired exchanges, or chains, each year.

Altruistic donation is a rarity, said Blayney, but is growing in popularity.

“We are seeing more people who have an intended recipient in mind, but are not able to donate to that person,” she said. “More and more people are choosing to help benefit someone else.”

To honor her extraordinary gift, Pierson was awarded the game ball during the Vanderbilt-Florida football game on Oct. 1. It was a part of the Gift of Life Tailgate, sponsored by the Vanderbilt Transplant Center and Vanderbilt University Athletics, honoring local living kidney donors.

During the tailgate, each donor received a Gift of Life medal in recognition of their donation.

“This has been a life-changing experience for me,” said Pierson. “It is a wonderful feeling being able to help another human being. This is beyond what I could have ever fathomed.”

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