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by:  Nick Dean – Jamestown Post Journal

September 27, 2007

The Western New York Kidney Connection will mark a milestone this October.

For the first time in the organization’s short history, a donor and kidney recipient have been brought together solely by the group’s Web site.

Based in Jamestown, the WNY Kidney Connection has been online for close to a year and currently has 30 individuals listed as needing kidneys. In addition to those in need, the Web site lists 15 people as having received successful transplants.

‘‘It’s just incredible,’’ said Jeanette Ostrom, co-founder of WNY Kidney Connection. ‘‘Every time someone comes off our list with a successful kidney transplant, it’s an amazing feeling. And it also opens up other people to the idea that they can be living donors.’’

One of the Kidney Connection’s foremost messages, information about becoming a living donor can be found online at the group’s Web site,www.wnykidneyconnection.org. A ‘‘selfless gift,’’ according to the group, a person who decides to donate a kidney ‘‘gives the gift of life.’’ However, as it is not a process that should be taken lightly, the WNY Kidney Connection encourages potential donors to research the process to answer any questions they may have.

‘‘A lot of people don’t realize that you only need one kidney,’’ Mrs. Ostrom said. ‘‘In the past, people have always donated kidneys mainly to family members. However, now, because of the way modern medicine works, it doesn’t have to be a close relative. You can give a kidney to a stranger. And that’s what we’re doing. People are posting profiles saying that they need a kidney and in many cases, strangers are coming forward because they realize they can be a living donor.’’

LEACARDIA RIOS
Leacardia ‘‘Lea’’ Rios will receive a new kidney on Oct. 12. A Fredonia resident and young mother, Rios, 34, has said the kidney will be her new lease on life.

After a routine physical on Aug. 28 of last year, Rios’ doctor called with news that tests had shown she was in stage five kidney failure and needed dialysis. Additionally, she had stage one cancer in one of her kidneys. Dialysis started a short two days later, on Sept. 1.

‘‘People don’t realize how bad dialysis is,’’ Rios said recently. ‘‘Yeah, it’s keeping you alive, but the quality of life sucks. And the longer you’re on it, the more your body gets weaker and weaker. So, by the time you’re ready to get a transplant, you’re body is too weak.’’

Receiving dialysis three days each week since last September, Rios decided to take an active part in finding a kidney for herself. In December 2006 she posted a profile on the WNY Kidney Connection and by February heard from a woman willing to donate.

Though the Kidney Connection has helped find kidneys for individuals, this is the first time a match has been made through the Web site without any help from its administrators. According to Mrs. Ostrom, many times individuals will help facilitate meetings between potential donors and those in need. However, with Rios and her donor, Debbie O’Connor, the connection was person-to-person — without any help from the site’s co-founders or any other individuals.

’’I would like to focus on Debbie and her kindness, and the women who run the site. They have given me a chance at a better life. I am hoping one person will read this and do this for someone else, Rios said. ‘‘I don’t know what to say about these women. I have a hundred words in my mouth and they’re just not the words to say how much they mean to me. I couldn’t begin to pay any one of them back. I could give them everything for the rest of my life and still never pay them back.

‘‘Without Jeanette and Debbie and their efforts and what they’ve done for me, I would have to be on dialysis forever,’’ Rios continued. ‘‘Jeanette, especially, has become very special to me. She’s almost like a second mother. It’s just her Web site, it’s her too. It’s her as a person supporting me and saying the things I need to hear, the little encouragement. It’s all the people behind the Web site and the support they give you on top of everything else really helps.

Thankful for having found a living donor, Rios stressed two points — that people do not have to be family members to share a kidney and that the number of living donors is quickly surpassing the number of organs donated after death.

‘‘It’s sad to say, but I’m lucky it was just a kidney,’’ Rios said. ‘‘People can’t be living donors for something like a heart, which is why everyone should sign their donor cards. I’ve seen people die while waiting on a list for an organ. You can help someone live by being a donor after death.’’

Lea’s donor, Debbie O’Connor is a volunteer firefighter in the town of Evans and is originally a Fredonia resident. The two women have been developing a friendship ever since meeting and frequently talk on the telephone and meet in person.

’’I was immediately drawn to Lea, in part because she lived in Fredonia and I had grown up in Fredonia. Since we met we have discovered that we have a great deal in common, O’Connor said in an interview with The Dunkirk OBSERVER. ’’She is a wonderful, positive, caring person and I feel blessed to be able to make a difference in her life.î

O’Connor said she was not aware that a non-family member could be a kidney donor match until reading an article about a non-family member from Alaska who was donating a kidney to a man from Western New York. The article led to her accessing the Web site for more information.

The WNY Kidney Connection Web site, www.wnykidneyconnection.org, was set up by ’’Women on a Mission” members and includes Patti Merritt of Grand Island, Diane Krzyzanowski of Akron, Jeanette Ostrom of Jamestown and Tina Long of Buffalo. The WNY Kidney Connection is a free site where potential living kidney donors and people in need of a kidney can communicate with one another. All money raised for the site during events such as the ‘‘Walk Week’’ held this past June, go directly to keeping it running free of charge and to assist people in need of a kidney with meeting their potential donors.

The Web site also includes follow-up information from those who have been successful in finding a donor and are now living healthy lives.