Marcy Lemieux's 14-year-old-son, Jamie, was born with kidney disease. She and her husband knew he would eventually need a transplant. • They were strict with his diet, and aside from not being able to play contact sports, Jamie led a normal life, though his doctors warned he would eventually need to go on dialysis. • Then, in 2016, they said he needed the transplant.
First Jamie's dad, John, was tested, but kidney stones ruled him out as a donor. So Marcy volunteered and the surgery was scheduled for October. But doctors found a cyst and said the risk would be too high because of Jamie's age. The surgery was canceled.
Jamie, who lives with his family in Seminole, was added to the National Kidney Registry with his kidney function at about 15 percent. The average wait time is more than two years, and patients are sometimes too sick for surgery by the time they are paired with a match.
That's when Marcy turned to Facebook, asking if anyone would be willing to test to be a donor. Within a few months, she found a match.
• • •
One of Marcy's co-workers at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino and Hotel, Taira Foster, 33, saw one of her posts one evening at home in Davenport.
She told her husband, Shaun Foster, 35, she wanted to donate, but was the wrong blood type.
"What blood type is he?" he asked.
Jamie is O-positive — the same as Shaun.
Taira asked him if he wanted to donate. He told her he'd think about it.
"I didn't push it any further," Taira said. "You can't really talk someone into giving up an organ."
A few days later, Shaun, a nurse, told Taira he wanted to test to become a donor.
"I just thought about what the mother must be going through," he said. "And the kid. It is kind of a big deal, it's a scary thing, I guess, but really it comes to down to if I'm able to live a perfectly normal life and save someone's life, there's no way I'd say no to it."
• • •
More than 97,000 people are on the national waiting list for a kidney transplant. Last year, only about 19,000 people received transplants, and only about 5,000 were from live donors, Candace Skelton, senior transplant coordinator with Tampa General Hospital's living donor program, said.
According to the National Kidney Foundation, 12 people die every day waiting for a kidney.
Usually, matches come when an organ donor dies.
Finding a living donor can improve the life expectancy for the recipient, Skelton said.
The recipient's insurance covers the cost of surgery, though the donor usually has a four- to six-week recovery process that requires taking time off from work. The Fosters set up a GoFundMe page to help with expenses and plan to move in with Taira's parents in Auburndale during that time.
"To undergo a surgery where there are risks involved and no medical benefit to you, but just to help someone is amazing," Skelton said. "To be able to give someone the gift of life while you're still alive to see it is pretty special."
• • •
Taira continued thinking. She was willing to give her kidney to Jamie. Why not someone else?
"It felt like something I had to do," she said.
She filled out a form online with the National Kidney Registry and posted about it on Facebook. An acquaintance from college messaged her privately. She knew someone who needed a kidney: Katie Castonguay, 32, a theater teacher from St. Petersburg.
When Castonguay was a preteen, she had to go on dialysis. Her mom donated a kidney then, and it lasted 18 years. But in November, her health started to falter and she needed to go on dialysis again.
Castonguay made a plea on Facebook. Her 7-year-old nephew asked her if he could give her one of his. Taira contacted Castonguay on Facebook through a mutual friend and they began to talk. Taira was a match.
"I was very excited," Castonguay said. "It was all kind of like kismet. I felt so blessed."
Taira said she was happy to be able to do it.
"Giving someone the second chance out of life, it's a really special experience, one that I never planned to have,'' she said. "I never thought about doing this. There's so many people with this need to survive."
• • •
Taira and Castonguay will undergo surgery today, and Shaun and Jamie on Aug. 24, both at Tampa General Hospital.
"Sometimes, before, I was kind of scared about what was going to happen," said Jamie, whose kidney function is at about 10 percent.
Marcy said sometimes she still struggles with the fact that she wasn't able to give her son a kidney. But she said her prayers were answered.
"My son was one of the statistics on that hundreds of thousands," she said. "It's been heartbreaking and a lot of tears. I'm really thankful my son got a kidney.''
Jamie said he feels lucky, and looks forward to not worrying after the transplant.
"It's pretty crazy that a stranger kind of gave me their own kidney," he said.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Divya Kumar at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @divyadivyadivya.