Giving the gift of life

Most people might not see the significance of an e-mail from a sister sharing the experience of a wonderful day at the beach.

Most people might not see the significance of an e-mail from a sister sharing the experience of a wonderful day at the beach.

But for Portland State employee Patrice Hudson to hear that her sister, Roberta Morris, could enjoy a walk along the beach after having a kidney transplant without the fatigue and sickness that had plagued her for years, was news neither sister could take for granted.

Morris has lived with diabetes almost all her life and has endured two pancreatic and two kidney transplants during the last five years. When the second kidney was infected with MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a type of staph bacteria infection that is resistant to most antibiotics, it had to be removed.

When Morris’ first transplanted kidney started to fail last spring, Hudson knew she had to do something: She decided to donate one of her kidneys to her sister.

“It just occurred to me one day that I couldn’t stand by and watch my sister suffering and actually dying when I had two perfectly good kidneys,” Hudson said. With the support of her family, Hudson went through a three-month period of testing at OHSU to see if her kidney would be a good match for her sister.

Hudson, a program assistant for the PSU Center for Academic Excellence, said she didn’t want to tell her sister that she was planning on donating her kidney until she was sure she was a good match. But with Morris holding off on having dialysis as long as she could in hopes of finding a donor, she decided not to keep her secret any longer.

Morris recalls the day when her sister told her the news. Morris said she was particularly “frustrated” that day and was “venting to her” sister regarding her declining health and constant dealings with the hospitals.

But she got a response from her sister that she never expected.

“She interrupted me and said ‘I have some really good things going on in my life that I’m doing that I want to tell you about,'” Morris said. Unaware that her sister was about to tell her that she was going to donate her kidney Morris said, “I guess we’ll discuss what’s going on in your life.”

When Hudson told her about the transplant, Morris said after “feeling guilty” for her earlier reaction, “we had some good laughs and some good tears.”

“You don’t know how to respond. Thank you isn’t enough,” said Morris, who has always shared a close bond with her sister. Without Hudson’s donation, Morris could have been on a waiting list for a donor for 18 to 24 months, perhaps even longer.

Without kidneys Morris would need constant dialysis, which would greatly reduce her quality of life because of how often treatment is needed, Hudson said. Even with the dialysis, Morris would still battle constant fatigue and sickness.

Eventually, Hudson found out that her kidney was a good match for her sister and the transplant took place in July 2008. The operation was successful for both women and they had a “really good recovery,” Morris said.

“We’re five and half months out [past the transplant] and she’s better than she’s been in years,” Hudson said. “She’s in great shape.”

Having been through four transplant operations, Morris knows that there is always risk of complications after surgery.

“There’s still a lot to keep an eye on but, it’s worlds better,” she said.

Joy Beckett, a program assistant for the Challenge and LINK high school programs, which allow high school students to take courses at PSU, has known Hudson for two years.

“When Patrice told me that she was going to donate her kidney, I thought she was the bravest person I ever met,” Beckett said, adding that it doesn’t surprise her that Hudson would be a live organ donor. “That’s the kind of person she is.”

Despite the praise she has received from people Hudson tries to keep a humble perspective on the surgery.

“The doctors came in and said, ‘You’re a hero.’ They really make this big deal, it’s almost embarrassing … I just gave something I had extra [of] to my sister,” Hudson said. “Someday if the kidney I have fails, I have faith that somebody else will give me a kidney or modern medicine will find another cure.”

After Donate Life NW, a local nonprofit, heard about the sisters’ story, they asked them to be volunteers for the organization. Morris now does work at the Donate Life office and helps out at their information tables at various events when she is healthy enough.

Hudson has joined the organization’s speakers bureau where she will get the chance to tell her story at schools and public events to help carry out the organization’s goal of educating people about the importance of being an organ donor.

“I think my kids have a renewed appreciation for our family,” Hudson said. “I know I do. I know my sister does.”