LINVILLE — In December 2019, Audra Wiseman, a medical surgical nurse at Charles A. Cannon Jr. Memorial Hospital in Linville, was at home one evening scrolling through Facebook, as she does on most days. She came across a somewhat familiar name, Shannon Perdue, and the plight of a local 47-year-old high school teacher suffering from kidney disease.
”I remembered her. She was my daughter's ninth-grade English teacher at Avery (County) High School,” Wiseman recalled. Wiseman remembered traveling to London with her on a school trip in 2015. "I just remembered how wonderful she was," Wiseman said.
But Wiseman didn’t really know Perdue much beyond that experience. In fact, she described their relationship as a casual acquaintance. “We hadn’t talked since the trip,” Wiseman said.
Upon reading social media and talking to others in the close-knit Avery County community, Wiseman learned that Perdue’s kidney disease prognosis was not good.
Perdue’s type of kidney disease is a genetic condition called Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD). Several of Perdue’s relatives have had PKD, including her grandmother, her aunt and her father — who died from the disease at the young age of 59. In May 2019, nephrologists told Perdue that she would need to start thinking about undergoing nightly peritoneal dialysis, which cleans the blood of impurities.
While peritoneal dialysis has many advantages over other types of treatment, it still presents many difficulties for patients. For most people, it must be done seven days per week and requires a permanent catheter outside the body. Patients run the risk of infection and weight gain. They also need ample storage space in their homes for supplies, equipment and the dialysis machine. Finally, patients must receive intensive training on what the procedure involves and how to use the equipment safely.
The other option for treating Perdue's kidney disease is through kidney transplant — a surgical procedure to place a kidney from a living or deceased donor into a person whose kidneys no longer function properly.
Currently, more than 100,000 people in the United States are on the national transplant waiting list for a donor kidney. Unfortunately, many may never get the call saying that a suitable donor organ — and a second chance at life — has been found. It's estimated that every day in the United States, 20 patients die because of the lack of donor organs.
Perdue went on the transplant list in October 2019 not knowing how long she would have to wait.
Treatment options for kidney disease
Kidney disease can affect the body’s ability to clean your blood, filter out extra water and help control blood pressure. When kidneys are damaged, waste and fluid accumulate, causing swelling in your ankles, nausea, weakness, poor sleep and shortness of breath. Without treatment, the damage to the body often gets worse and a person’s kidneys may eventually stop functioning.
On a positive note, more than 6,000 healthy people in the U.S. donate a kidney to someone they know each year. About half are blood relatives of the kidney recipient. The other half are spouses, friends or acquaintances. Approximately 100 donors come forward wishing to anonymously give the gift to someone they've never met.
As Wiseman learned more about Perdue, she felt a strong sense of wanting to help.
"As a nurse, taking care of others just comes natural. I have seen what people with kidney disease have to go through and it’s not a good situation,” Wiseman said. She knew that if Perdue had to wait for a kidney from the transplant waiting list, it would take far too long, and knew the best way to help Perdue would be to donate one of her own kidneys.
The decision was not made lightly, however. "I just started praying about it,” Wiseman said. In December Wiseman contacted Perdue through Facebook to ask for contact information for the Center for Transplant Services University of Tennessee Medical Center (UTMC) in Knoxville, wishing to learn more about the process. Ashley Dennis, living donor coordinator for the Organ Donor Council in the UTMC Center for Transplant Services, answered every question for her.
Prior to proceeding with the donation, Wiseman had to meet several conditions. First and foremost, her blood type had to match, plus she had to have healthy kidney function.
“They also performed lots of tests — CTs of my abdomen, mammograms and 28 different blood tests,” Wiseman recollected.
Wiseman also realized that she had to think about the impact it would have on her own life, questions that include: What are the health risks? How long is the recovery? How would it impact her family? What bearing would it have on her ability to work and make a living?
“My husband was obviously concerned, but very supportive,” Wiseman said.
But Wiseman also has experience with a kidney issue within her family, a little-known fact she only sparingly has shared.
“My daughter has one kidney,” Wiseman added. “She's living proof that you can live with just one.” The reinforcement seemed to crystallize why she would donate a kidney to someone she barely knew.
In addition to the qualification process, Wiseman also had to balance her desire to donate a kidney to Perdue with the potential of a member of her own family, including her daughter, possibly needing a donation that she would not be able to offer in the future. Wiseman’s faith guided her in addressing the issue.
“Someone will give her one. It’s easy enough that everyone should donate,” Wiseman said. “Our body is God’s body. He has just loaned it to us while we’re here on earth.”
While Wiseman understood there are risks with any surgery, a review of data seems to support her assertion that after donating a kidney, a person can live exactly the way they lived before donating — a long, healthy, active life with virtually no restrictions.
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine studied mortality among 80,000 kidney donors during the past 15 years, comparing them to healthy people with both kidneys. The study, published March 10, 2010, in The Journal of the American Medical Association — 60 years after the first documented kidney transplant in the U.S. — shows the procedure carries little long-term medical risk for the donor.
After numerous visits to UTMC, Wiseman was fully convinced that donating her kidney to Perdue was something she wanted to do.
Days of celebration
The date of Thursday, Jan. 30, is a day that Perdue will never forget.
“I was in my classroom trying to implement a new technology and Penny Ward (another Avery High School teacher) came in and said, ‘They need you in the front office right away,’” Perdue said. When Ward and Perdue walked into the office they were met by Bev Baird and Wiseman.
Right then, with just the four of them in the room, Wiseman uttered the words, “Ms. Shannon, I’m going to give you a kidney.”
Perdue was overwhelmed by the moment.
“We all hugged. Everybody cried. It was beautiful. Audra was giving me the greatest gift,” Perdue said, adding that the good news filtered out at school very quickly. For the next hour, people kept coming by Perdue’s classroom.
“A little while later the school made an announcement over the intercom and everyone celebrated with me,” Perdue added.
“There was a lot of crying, a lot of happiness,” Wiseman noted. “My daughter loved Shannon Perdue. I can’t imagine our community losing that resource. When the kids at the high school learned about her, they were lining up to do it, too.”
On March 3, Wiseman and her husband arrived at UTMC, where Wiseman would undergo pre-operative preparations for the transplant surgery the following day.
The procedure, a robotic nephrectomy, would take approximately three hours. Wiseman and Perdue had adjoining rooms to expedite the handoff of the life-saving organ.
Recovery in the hospital for Wiseman required two or three days after surgery and she will not be able to drive for a few weeks. Because she won’t be able to lift more than a few pounds at a time, she will need some assistance with activities of daily living. Wiseman returns to UTMC for evaluation at one week, one month, six months and one year following transplant, and will miss several weeks of work following the procedure.
How others can help
Wiseman and her family will incur numerous expenses and partial loss of wages while missing work.
To assist the family, Appalachian Regional Healthcare Foundation is establishing a fund to offset these losses, giving others the opportunity to be a part of the journey of generosity toward another in need.
To donate, contact: Audra Wiseman Fund, in care of Appalachian Regional Healthcare Foundation, P.O. Box 2600, Boone, NC 28607. Donations may be made by cash, check or credit card, as an online donation form is available by clicking to www.apprhs.org/kidneydonor.