BY MARCY SHORTUSE – Last year we brought you the story of a South Gulf Cove woman, Jennifer Stanton, who had given the gift of life to an anonymous person in need: In an action of sheer bravery and selflessness she donated one of her kidneys. She didn’t know at the time if she would ever find out who the recipient was, but she recently was happy to make his acquaintance.
His name is Mark Rodriguez, and he is from Clearwater.
From December of 2012 to December of 2019 Mark was in kidney failure and had to go through dialysis three times a week.
“I won’t go into the gory details, but needless to say it wasn’t the happiest of times,” said Mark. “Sitting in a dialysis chair three times a week for three hours and 15 minutes, while needles are being plunged into my arm, my blood drained, cleaned and put back in my body is just something that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.”
On December 18, 2019 all of that changed when he underwent kidney transplant surgery with one of Jennifer’s kidneys. The operation was successful, and Mark has a new chance at life. He was so excited; he even gave his new kidney a name – Katy.
As you can imagine, though, he always wondered about the person who used to own “Katy.”
“The one thing that I regretted about my transplant was that my donor wanted to be nameless. Or so I thought,” he said. “To me, that was a selfless act, a sacrificial act, an act of ultimate kindness and a giving of one’s self unselfishly. I was never ever able to get any information with regard to who this angel of life was.”
At the time of the surgery Jennifer was told the recipient would remain anonymous, but she was allowed to write a note to see if the person would respond. In mid-April of this year, they finally connected.
“It was really cool meeting him,” Jennifer said. “We will be connected for life! He is a very sweet and caring person. It was very exciting, seeing how well he is doing.”
Mark was over the moon to meet Jennifer, and he brought his son, Josh, along with him. He didn’t tell him where they were going, or why, just that he had a surprise for him.
“All the emotions came flooding back, all the seven years of dialysis, all the way through transplant, the year plus after transplant, everything came flooding back in a wave of emotion,” Mark said. “I spoke with Jennifer over the phone first, then I was able to meet her face-to-face! To be able to see who this angel of life was! To hug her neck, to thank her from the bottom of my heart, to thank her for giving me a new life, and to thank her husband for supporting her all along the way … there are no words that can adequately convey the gratitude that I feel in my heart and in my soul.”
Jennifer got involved in the organ donation process through a show she saw on television that sparked her curiosity, but it was years before she could formulate a plan to donate.
“Years ago, I saw a show about organ donation, and I thought it was cool,” she said. “My husband at that time was in the Army, so I didn’t get a chance to stay around anywhere long enough to get involved with an organ donation program. Then, later on, my aunt mentioned something about her friend needing a kidney. We had settled down in one place and were in a financial position to do it.”
At that time Jennifer was working for Mike Douglass Plumbing in Englewood. Her boss, Doug Curtis, received a kidney transplant himself years ago, and it saved his life. He paid Jennifer’s salary while she was at home recuperating after the surgery, which made the process easier on Jennifer’s family.
Several weeks after having her surgery, Jennifer was up and about. She said the surgery lasted about three hours and was done laparoscopically through three small incisions and one longer one. The scars, she said, are very minimal. The surgeon told her that she had a “very good-looking kidney,” and that the recipient was already producing urine just 24 hours after surgery.
Mark said there were many people who were tested to see if they could donate a kidney to him, but there had been no successful matches amongst them. When he got the call about Jennifer’s kidney being a match, he knew that he was meant to stay here on earth with his family and friends.
“Everyone deserves a second chance at life,” he said. “One of the important ways of having that chance is to become an organ donor. Please, seriously consider becoming an organ donor. Life is precious and we all have the ability to preserve it so please be an organ donor and save a life.”
Approximately 114,000 people in the United States are currently on the waiting list for a lifesaving organ transplant. For more information, go to organdonor.gov.