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Kidney recipient finds perfect match in close friend

It was the day before Valentine’s Day 2008 when Becky Springer began to notice something wasn’t right. “It was a normal day, except I had the chills – and it wasn’t particularly that cold outside for it being February,” says Springer, a kidney transplant candidate at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital. “By the next morning, I was literally in gut-wrenching pain. I tried dialing the phone – and that’s when I noticed my fingers were tingling.” Her husband came home from work and took her to the hospital.

Bacteria causes amputations, kidneys to fail

“When they were doing triage in the emergency room, they checked me into the ICU because there was a doctor there that recognized my symptoms and what I had,” Springer says. “They said I had haemophilus influenzae bacteria (Hib). It is also known as the Spanish flu, which killed a quarter of the world’s population in the 1920s.” Hib is bacteria that can cause meningitis, pneumonia, severe throat swelling, and infections of the blood, joints, bones and heart. Thanks to a vaccine that has been available since 1988, the most serious strain of the bacteria has been nearly abolished.

However, against the odds, Springer contracted Hib. “Hib goes through your body and seeks out anything that has tiny vessels, like your hands, feet and kidneys. It basically starts attacking those body parts,” she says.

Springer developed sepsis in her outer extremities, which led to the amputation of both her hands and feet - a devastating consequence felt by all of those around her. After her kidneys shut down, she was placed on 24-hour dialysis.

The Kidney Transplant List

While she was immediately added to the kidney transplant recipient waitlist, administration told her it would take at least three to four years before she would receive a new organ. “I got several blood transfusions in the hospital because I lost a lot of blood due to my blood infection,” Springer says.

“There’s a special list you can get on for when you’re such a difficult match, because it’s going to take you even longer to find a match, but unfortunately, I missed that cut-off by just a few points,” she explains. “I was on just the regular list and I don’t know how far up the list I finally got.” While she learned to walk on prosthetic legs, dialysis took up a significant amount of her time – three days a week for 3.5 hours each day.

Springer’s medical team arranged for her to undergo dialysis in her home because she had three young children. “Just trying to go through my daily activities was very difficult on top of doing dialysis and having prosthetics,” she says. “It was a very different life for me.”

Inspiration from a Friend

“I met Amy Otto about two and a half years ago in my book club,” Springer says. “After about six months to a year in the book club, we were talking at a party and we really just hit it off.” “Getting to know Becky was great – she had these qualities of strength,” says Otto. “We had a lot in common, but most importantly, she was a mother like I was. Her kids were younger than mine. I looked at Becky and thought, ‘Here’s somebody who has taken all of these obstacles and made the best of it.’”

After Otto celebrated Springer’s birthday with her, she began thinking about whether or not she would be a match for kidney donation. “She’d mentioned to me about hand transplant technology, but said, ‘I’ll never get a hand transplant because I need a kidney first. I’m a difficult match and everybody’s been tested,’” explains Otto.

She began researching the kidney donation process after that conversation. “I’ve always been pretty healthy and the more research I did, the more I felt at ease with it. I went for the first cross match test for the antibodies and it matched,” she says.

However, the medical staff told Otto that perfect matches almost never happen and asked her to return for addition testing. “I just had this great feeling that it was right,” says Otto.

A Perfect Match

After several rounds of testing, Otto’s hunch that she was a match for Springer was confirmed. “I found out that a perfect match is very rare and sometimes a partial match can be forced with immunotherapy and drugs after the actual transplant,” says Otto. “But the fact that it was a perfect match – it’s almost like it was absolutely meant to be.”

Springer knew how rare a perfect match really was. “If you’re on the kidney donation list and you’re way down at the bottom, and somebody comes along who is a six-point match, there’s a federal law that says you go all the way to the top and get that kidney. That’s how good a six-point match is,” explains Springer.

A Second Chance at Life

After donating one of her kidneys and seeing Springer recuperate so well, Otto knows she made the right choice. “When I see Becky, it’s great,” says Otto. “It’s also great to hear from friends who know Becky and how great she’s doing.”

“We just have a unique bond. I literally have a little piece of her inside of me,” says Springer. “Amy is such a beautiful person. I can’t thank God enough for the beautiful kidney that I received.”

To learn more about living kidney donation, visit the Piedmont Transplant Institute.

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