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Emory nurse donates own kidney to patient in need

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ATLANTA - Emory University Hospital transplant nurse Allison Batson has spent many years caring for patients in need of a life-saving organ transplant. She has seen many patients’ lives saved because of the gift of organ donation … and many others lost because a matching organ simply could not be located in time.

This time, Batson was not only in the position to provide comfort and care at the bedside of a young patient in desperate need of a kidney transplant, she selflessly gave of herself – literally- by becoming an organ donor to 23 year-old Clay Taber of Columbus, Ga.

Taber, who recently graduated from Auburn University and is set to marry his college sweetheart in June, has been eagerly looking toward his future, while at the same time battling the fight of his life.    

The first week of August 2010 was a wonderful and busy time in the Taber household. Clay had celebrated a birthday on Aug. 6th and graduated from college on the 9th. Somewhere in between, he began feeling ill, with bouts of night sweats. After Clay graduated from Auburn, the Taber family took a celebratory beach vacation at the Gulf of Mexico – not long after the unprecedented oil spill that occurred in the Gulf starting in late April and lasting more than three months.

A few weeks after the vacation, Clay was still not feeling well. A doctor’s visit and standard blood tests uncovered some positive signs for mononucleosis – but no other symptoms. However, a call to Clay’s mother Sandra on Aug. 27 began Clay’s fight.

“I was in the grocery store when my phone rang. It was the doctor’s office and they told me new tests showed that Clay was in complete kidney failure. He needed to get to a hospital immediately,” said Sandra Taber. “Needless to say, it was one of those phone calls no parent ever wants to receive about their child.”

Clay was diagnosed with Goodpasture’s Syndrome, a rare (approximately 1-in 1 million), life-threatening autoimmune disorder related to antibody formation in the body. Goodpasture's syndrome is characterized by renal (kidney) disease and lung hemorrhage.  Although there is no exact cause known, Goodpasture’s disease is the immune system fighting the body's own normal tissues through creating antibodies that attack the lungs and kidneys. Sometimes the disorder is triggered by a viral infection, or by the inhalation of gasoline or other hydrocarbon solvents – such as those found in crude oil.

While Clay was lucky that the disorder was discovered before his lungs were affected, he was now suffering from complete kidney failure. He was transferred to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, where he would spend numerous weeks on the 7th floor – the transplant unit, where he would undergo weeks of dialysis and plasmapheresis (blood purification procedure used to treat several autoimmune diseases.)

“I remember the hospital was full and they had to really work to even find a room for Clay,” recalled Sandra. “They happened to find a room for him on, of all units, the transplant floor.”

.... And that’s where the bond began.

 “Immediately when Clay came onto our unit, he became a special patient that everyone just gravitated to,” said Allison Batson. “Here was this young man with everything in his life ahead of him, and he was fighting for his life. He quickly became friends of many of the staff, and really was just a tremendous inspiration to us all.”

Batson continued to visit with Clay during his weeks at the hospital, and a deeper connection began to form than the typical nurse-patient bond.

“I learned more about Clay, his family, his life, what he saw for his future. He wanted to get married to his sweetheart. He just graduated from college. The whole world was his, with the exception of this incredibly rare illness that hit him out of the blue. I have children his age, and I felt the same kind of pain his mother was feeling. Something inside me said I needed to do more.”

Soon Clay was strong enough to return home, be placed on a kidney transplant waiting list, and continue dialysis treatments and other therapy while he waited for a possible organ match to arrive. But before he left Emory and the many new friends and supporters he had developed there, one message from many among his well-wishers struck his very heart.

“I told him that I was the same blood type (O-negative) and that if it ever came to it, I would be screened for organ donation and donate my kidney to him if possible,” said Allison.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Clay. “Everybody I came in contact with at Emory was so incredibly nice and supportive of me, and then here was this woman who said 'If I can save your life, you can count on me.' What do you say to that?”

A few months passed and Clay continued receiving dialysis treatments back home in Columbus, while awaiting the call that an organ had become available. Because of Clay’s rare O-negative blood type, finding a matching donor would prove to be challenging.

In August 2011, Clay’s mother, Sandra, would be tested as a possible match. She, however, would not qualify as an organ donor. Finally in late October, during a visit to Emory and the transplant unit where Clay regularly visited with friends and well-wishers when in town, he, of course, also met with Allison.

“She said ‘My offer stands. If you’ll let me do this, I want to help you,” recalled Taber. “Something at that point just hit me. There are so many people in need of an organ transplant and have been waiting like me – even longer than me in many cases. And here is Allison offering to do this amazing thing. When she said ‘If you’ll let me,’ there was just something in those words. I couldn’t say no.”

Soon after, Batson would undergo the full testing process that would eventually confirm her as a perfect donor match for Clay.

“People have asked me why I would do this for a stranger, or what if I had a family member in need one day, or why would I risk my own life or health for someone I barely know. My answer is because I can. Sure, I have children who might possibly be in need one day, but here was this young man right in front of me who needs help - today, and I am in a position to help him - today. If what I do for Clay causes more awareness among others that live organ donation is a possibility, then I can only hope that other lives will be saved because of my actions.”

Days before the scheduled surgery was to occur, Allison got some distressing news from the Emory Transplant Center concerning her status.

“There were a few numbers that were not looking particularly great, and that a few more tests would need to be done to ensure everything was a go. I was truly worried that after coming all this way, something would cause this to fall through. However, it turns out that was our glitch in the process.”

On Tuesday, Jan. 10, the families of both Allison and Clay gathered in the early morning hours at Emory University Hospital. Smiles, tears and hugs were abundant between people who had formed an unbreakable bond over the course of the last few months, and had, in effect become extended family to one another.

In Operating Room #9, Allison underwent surgery to remove her kidney, while Clay was prepped for surgery just 30-feet away in Operating Room #8. Hours later, both patients were resting comfortably on the 7th floor of Emory, where they had met by chance just months before. Both ready to start the new year in incredible fashion – with a new lease on life for Clay, and as a hero for Allison.

It is standard practice for live kidney donors/recipients to dedicate a name to the kidney that changed both lives forever.

The name dedicated to this one?

“Glitch,” said Allison. “We thought it was appropriate after those last minute worries we had over the testing. I like it. The kidney named ‘Glitch.'”

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