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Offline Clark

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Website seeks to link Albany kidney patients with donors
Site links Albany patients with people willing to donate
By Claire Hughes

An unexpected connection saved Patti Merritt from the life she anticipated after being diagnosed with kidney disease, a life like her father's, which ended early after lots of time hooked to a dialysis machine.

She paid it forward, creating a website, Kidney Connection, that links Buffalo-area residents who need kidneys with people willing to donate them.

Now the site is expanding to Albany, with a new tab called "The Albany Connection."

"In the world of social media that we live in, it's just one more way that we can help folks who are waiting," Merritt said Tuesday at the Legislative Office Building, as she and other advocates with the Northeast Kidney Foundation prepared to lobby lawmakers.

People who need kidneys wait an average of three to five years for an organ from a living donor, advocates said. In the eight years that the Kidney Connection has existed, 11 people in western New York have received kidneys from living donors who lived close by but were not their relatives. The number may seem small. Merritt, however, views each match as a huge success.

"They would not have happened were it not for the Kidney Connection, because these were strangers," said Merritt, a resident of the Buffalo suburb of Grand Island. When Merritt, now 49, was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease, she imagined repeating her father's life. He died at 56 after eight years of dialysis.

But when her sister-in-law heard of the diagnosis, she immediately offered a kidney, saying she had always thought about donating an organ to someone. Merritt didn't even realize someone who wasn't a relative could do that. She learned that the most important part of a match was having compatible blood types. That was the germ of idea for Kidney Connection.

People tell their stories about needing a kidney there. And kind strangers find them. The person in need of a kidney chooses how they prefer to be contacted — by phone, email or through a transplant center. Local TV coverage has helped spread the word, Merritt said.

"The people who come forward are not weirdos," Merritt, a social worker, reassured her audience of fellow advocates Tuesday. "They are normal, competent people who are just moved to help."

There are national websites that do the same thing as the Kidney Connection. While they might draw from a larger population of potential donors, Merritt believes there is something powerful about helping a neighbor.

And Kidney Connection is free, unlike some national sites.

Watervliet resident Jamie Smythe, 25, hopes it brings her the kidney she needs. She got sick with an autoimmune disorder that damaged her kidney function in 2011, and has spent some time of almost every month since in a hospital. She is hooked to a dialysis machine for 12 hours every night.

She put her story up on the Kidney Connection last week. She is hopeful, but recognizes the outcome is not up to her.

"I believe that God will orchestrate the events of my life, and if getting a kidney is one, that will happen," Smythe said.

http://kidneyconnection.org. Click on "Kidney Connections," for a drop-down menu to "The Albany Connection."
Unrelated directed kidney donor in 2003, recipient and I both well.
625 time blood and platelet donor since 1976 and still giving!
Elected to the OPTN/UNOS Boards of Directors & Executive, Kidney Transplantation, and Ad Hoc Public Solicitation of Organ Donors Committees, 2005-2011
Proud grandpa!


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