OAKLAND, Calif. - Last year, Craigslist linked a Southern California woman willing to donate a kidney to a Bay Area man she didn’t know who needed a new kidney in order to survive.
Before Jessica Morris, 30, and David Nicherie, 29, were wheeled off to separate surgery rooms at UCSF, where surgeons removed Morris’ left kidney and transplanted it into Nicherie, the two made a promise.
They were going to help match donors with recipients in hopes of saving lives.
Their surgeries were successful and Morris and Nicherie returned to their respective lives and are both doing well, many months later.
“It's been about 7 months and 9 days. Not that I'm counting or anything,’’ said Nicherie, a freelance writer, who lives in Oakland.
“Things have been great in terms of my kidney,'' said Nicherie. "All my labs have been great and my meds are down to just a few important ones. Well worth it though, and definitely not possible without Jessica saving my life.”
It was chronic, life-long health problems that had Nicherie suffering from kidney failure and on dialysis when, in a last-ditch effort to save his life, he posted an advertisement on Craigslist seeking a kidney donor.
Right before he posted on Craigslist, he had had discussions with his family about hospice care because years of dialysis had taken such a toll on his physical and mental health that he wasn’t sure he could go on.
Since the transplant he has had to undergo two surgeries, not related to the kidney transplant, but all in all, his quality of life has improved 100 percent, he said.
“Other than that, I've just been trying to help others try to find their Jessica,’’ Nicherie said.
Because the internet brought Nicherie and Morris together, the two launched a website called findakidneydonor.com to help connect potential kidney donors with people who need a kidney.
It’s also a way to share information with those on both sides of the donation process and answer questions.
“I think there is a big fear (about) if it will cause any physical limitations after,’’ said Morris. “And they find comfort seeing how active I was after donating. I went backpacking three weeks after (the surgery) and I even swam with sharks six weeks after my surgery.”
Right now, there are two people who are working with NIcherie after finding findakidneydonor.com in hopes of finding kidney donors.
Rob Visda, 43, is a correctional officer in a Northern California prison who has been on the waitlist at UCSF for more than a year after learning, years ago that he has polycystic kidney disease. The inherited disease, which has been getting progressively worse over the last decade, can cause kidney failure by age 60.
Half a dozen family members have been tested to see if they are a match for Visda, but no one was. Visda even went to Disneyland wearing a T-shirt that said “In need of a kidney: O positive (blood type)" hoping to find someone who might consider donating.
Like many in need of a transplant, he’s blasted out his situation on social media and talks about his plight with just about anyone who will listen.
“My work knows,” he said. “It went all the way up to the warden.”
Visda said he is thankful for the help of the web site and Nicherie.
"He’s been very helpful in getting us in the right direction,’’ said Visda. “It’s really nice to meet someone who wants it pay it forward.”
Barb Lundberg lives in Pennsylvania and has been on the waiting list at Penn State Hershey for more than three years after she learned she has kidney disease.
The 66-year-old has also tried several unique approaches to finding a donor, including posting a “kidney donor needed’ sign in her yard, T-shirts advertising her plight and bumper stickers asking for potential donors. Though Nicherie and other connections there are three people who might be able to donate a kidney to Lundberg.
UCSF transplant surgeon Dr. Sang-Mo Kang, who has performed upwards of 1,000 transplant surgeries during his 25 plus years at the medical center, said their donation website is a powerful way to provide much needed information to potential donors.
“We really need more living donors,’’ the doctor said. “I think we need a lot more education. We need more people educating others about donation and realizing it’s possible and it’s safe.”