Inspired by Compassion: A Living Kidney Donation

May 2, 2024 | Patient Stories, Team Member Spotlights

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Remarkable stories of resilience and healing happen every day at Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital, but an extraordinary gift of love from an exceptional team member has changed one patient’s life forever.

Earlier this year Lauren, 17, received a kidney from Lori Vaughn, RN, supervisor of sedation services at our children’s hospital.

Lori’s Act of Love

A senior from Gonzales, Lauren was diagnosed with dense deposit disease, an ultra-rare autoimmune disease that impacts her kidneys. Last fall Lauren was in a race against time to find a living kidney donor to keep her off dialysis.

“I knew Lauren and her family, and I know of her illness as she was in and out of our hospital,” Lori says. Lori’s mother-in-law is an administrator at Lauren’s school, so the two were acquaintances over the years.

Lori was not part of Lauren’s direct care team but would check on Lauren and her family when she was admitted in the hospital.

Lori saw Lauren’s story on Facebook early at work one morning.

“When I read that Lauren was in need of a transplant, I felt strongly that this was something I wanted to do,” she says. “I spent the rest of my day thinking about how I was going to go home and tell my husband and my children.”

Lori and her husband have two sons close to Lauren’s age, and her perspective as a mother influenced her desire to help.

“The goal was I was going to go home and ask them for their support, but they quickly knew this was on my heart,” Lori says. “I wanted to do it.”

Taking the First Step to a Transplant

The day after she read Lauren’s story, Lori filled out the online application to become a donor. The University of Iowa, where Lauren’s specialized care took place, called right away to get the ball rolling.

“There were many steps in that process, but with each step I felt like we were getting somewhere,” Lori says. She was able to do much of her initial blood work and other routine tests right where she works at Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital.

Everything pointed to a good match, and in November Lori traveled to Iowa for on-site testing. “I had about 14 appointments in a one-day trip, and then I came home, and it was just a waiting game,” Lori says.

It’s a Match

“I received a phone call the week of Christmas to say I was a match,” Lori says. “And they allowed me the opportunity to tell Lauren’s family.” Lori called Toni Swanson, Lauren’s mom, and was able to give her the best Christmas gift possible.

From there, it was a whirlwind and Lori had to quickly prepare to be away from work for six weeks.

Directed Donation

Ashley Rawson, MD, pediatric nephrologist at Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital, is part of Lauren’s care team, and was so excited when a match was found for her.

“Doing a directed donation like that to someone who’s not a family member is such a selfless and incredible thing to do,” Dr. Rawson says.

The Power of Community

Before the transplant, team members at Our Lady of the Lake rallied behind Lori in many ways including a jambalaya benefit and a blessing in the chapel.

Blessing before Lori's travel for transplant

“It was just an amazing thing,” Lori says. “The support I received from the hospital here was above and beyond.”

Lori and Lauren’s relationship is grounded at Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital. “We had to travel away and have our surgery there, but our roots and our foundation are still here, and it’s a blessing.”

Having worked for our children’s hospital for 17 years, Lori says, “Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital is doing amazing things for our community and our state.”

Our mission and how we live it out are important reasons that she continues her career here. “It’s a joy every day that we’re able to start every day and meeting in prayer,” she says. “We are able to live out our faith every day.”

A Successful Transplant

Lori & LaurenBecause Lauren’s health began to decline, the surgery was bumped up and the transplant took place on Thursday, February 1.

Lauren traveled to Iowa in mid-January, and Lori arrived three days before the surgery for final testing, which was all good.

The transplant was a great success. “I actually learned while I was in recovery that the kidney was functioning and working beautifully for Lauren as they were finishing up her surgery,” Lori says.

Recovery and Homecoming

Lori stayed in Iowa to recover for about 10 days, and Lauren was there for about six weeks.

“Lauren traveled home the week of Easter, which I believe is a full circle moment for us and our story,” Lori says. “God touched our story from the very beginning with me even knowing that Lauren needed this, and I had a strong feeling from the very beginning that I was going to be the match.”

Lori & Lauren in Hospital

Lauren is now doing so well she can return to her favorite activities.

“That’s amazing to see because she was too sick to do those things before, and now she can,” Lori says. “She doesn’t look sick. She looks so healthy, and she’s able to do things she couldn’t do before.”

Lauren’s recovery is a blessing to Lori. “That means that what I did worked,” Lori says. “I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to be able to do it.”

Dr. Rawson confirms how much better Lauren is doing now, almost three months post-transplant.

“Lauren is doing great. She was chosen prom queen and is playing softball,” Dr. Rawson says. “Her appetite is back, and she looks amazing. Lori’s kidney is functioning beautifully.”

Dr. Rawson will continue to provide care for Lauren until she’s at least 21. “I feel very lucky and privileged to be able to take care of Lauren and work with her incredible family.”

Keep up with Lauren at KIDney of KINDness, the family’s Facebook page with regular updates about her recovery.

How Others Can Help

Although living organ donation isn’t right for everyone, it is worth considering.

“What an incredible opportunity to really directly impact and save someone’s life,” Dr. Rawson says. “We’re all born with two kidneys and very rarely do we need both. So, you have an extra there.”

As with every type of medical procedure, there are risks for organ donors. Potential donors should consider all factors as they’re making the decision.

“But everybody can be an organ donor at the end of life when that time comes,” Lori says.

Learn more about organ donation from LOPA, the Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency.

From ultra-rare conditions to everyday health concerns, our children’s health network is ready to provide the best in pediatric care. It’s that simple.

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