A Kidney Transplant Story of Where Life is Stranger than Fiction

In the photo above: (L) Marianne McGiffin, kidney transplant recipient from Fort Myers, Florida, receives kidney from her office supervisor Dr. Melanie Altizer, OB/gyn of Fort Myers.

Dr. Melanie Altizer asked a co-worker how she was feeling one day – and never imagined such a simple question might save a life.

But the resulting conversation led Altizer to offer a kidney to Marianne McGiffin, her office manager and friend. Both women came in February to Tampa General Hospital, one of the nation’s busiest and most advanced organ transplant centers, for a successful kidney transplant operation.

“I feel like I have been rejuvenated, I have so much hope,” McGiffin said.

Altizer went into medicine to be a healer, and she says donating her kidney comes from the same impulse inside her.  “I’ve had a lot of great feelings in my life but I can’t compare this to anything else.” Seeing her friend Marianne recover after the life-saving surgery was simply “the best feeling.”

Altizer, McGiffin and TGH physicians discussed the need for living organ donors at a news conference Wednesday, April 10 at Tampa General Hospital, which has performed more than 10,000 transplant operations.

“There’s a huge need for donors,” said Dr. Victor Bowers, executive director of the Tampa General Hospital Advanced Organ Disease & Transplantation Institute. “We’re still fortunate, our waiting lists here are two, three, and four years, but in some parts of the country they are years longer.”

April is National Donate Life Month, which shines a spotlight on living and deceased donors of organs and tissue.

In this case, the donor and the recipient came together through a connection at work.

Altizer is an OB-GYN who practices in Fort Myers. McGiffin, trained as a nurse, has been an office manager in the same practice.

On a day when McGiffin didn’t seem to be feeling well, Altizer asked what was wrong. McGiffin explained that she had kidney disease and needed a transplant. The two quickly discovered they both have O+  blood.

Altizer had already signed up to be an organ donor. But that meant donating her organs if she died. She had never really considered donating an organ while she was still alive.

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“When I started doing some research about living donation I was shocked at how safe it really is,” Altizer said.

“You know, I don’t really look at it in terms of a sacrifice. I think in a different way, it benefits me just as much, because I can’t think of anything more powerful or meaningful than to be able to help give someone the gift of life.”

McGiffin says she is amazed at Altizer’s generosity and says Altizer “is so giving of herself.”

Now, both women say they want to share the message that living organ donations can save the lives of others. Because most people are born with two kidneys, they remain in good health after donating one of them. Other people may donate a portion of their liver, because it can be transplanted and save the life of someone with liver disease.

Dr. James Huang, who performed this kidney transplant operation at TGH along with Dr. Heidi Pearson, said donations like these are vitally important because, “a healthy kidney from a healthy person works better, it works faster and it works longer.”

“Success stories like these are inspiring, but many people are still awaiting donations so they too can receive successful transplants,” said Betsy Edwards, public affairs project manager for LifeLink of Florida. “We’ve got more than 5,000 Floridians on the national organ transplant waiting list.”

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