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Burbank Woman Gets Kidney From an ‘Angel’

Donna Fitzmaurice of Burbank has more than a new year to celebrate. She has a new kidney, too, thanks to a 25-year-old Palos Hills man who just came into Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn and said he wanted to be a donor.

Since being diagnosed with focal sclerosis in 2008, Fitzmaurice, now 60, had required kidney dialysis several times a week due to scarring and damage to kidney tissue. She would spend three or four hours hooked up to a dialysis machine at the hospital before going in to her full-time office job. But in April, she got the call she had been hoping for.

She said when she got the call from Christ Hospital in late April, she thought she might get good news about her sister being a possible match for kidney donation. ÒThey wouldn’t tell me over the phone; they just asked my husband Dennis and I to come in for a meeting.”

The news was better than she expected on that Monday, April 30. ÒThey told us they had a kidney for me and they would operate on Wednesday if I wanted it,” she said. ÒThey gave me a day to get my head together.”

ÒHe’s my miracle angel,” said Fitzmaurice of the man who donated his kidney to her.

ÒI had a chance to meet him briefly after surgery. Up until that time, he was anonymous to me. We were both in pain. I was still in ICU so we couldn’t talk long, but he met my family.”

Fitzmaurice and her husband have two sons, David and Robert, and four grandchildren. David lives in Arizona, but he came in for the surgery and stayed several weeks.

Ò(The donor) just told me to live my life to the best of my ability,” said Fitzmaurice, who plans to do just that. ÒI know I am blessed. It is not very often that someone comes in off the street and donates their kidney to you.”

She is very grateful to her doctors, including transplant surgeon Deepak Mital MD, and said that while she had some post-surgery complications and recovery took longer than expected, she is feeling better now.

ÒWhen my grandson came over at Christmas, I was able to get down and play with him on the floor,” she said with amazement.

ÒI feel good. I’m almost fully recovered now,” but she knows she is not out of the woods yet. She must take anti-rejection medicine for the rest of her life, as many as 30 pills a day, but is happy to do it as long as she stays healthy.

ÒRejection can happen at any time, but if I can get through this first year, I’ve been told the chances of rejection happening lessen,” said Fitzmaurice.

She noted that her husband has a heart condition, and money is tight because she has been off work, but when she is 100 percent better and back working, she would like to take a trip. ÒWe would like to go back to Arizona to see my son, and maybe go to the Grand Canyon,” she said.

ÒI’m not pushy and I wouldn’t tell anyone what to do, but if they ask me about becoming an organ donor, I would advise them to consider it, and talk to someone to find out all the details,” added Fitmaurice. ÒFor people still on kidney dialysis, I know it is hard, but I say stick with it, and stay positive. If you are on an organ donor list, your chance will come too.”

She said that whenever she got discouraged on dialysis, she thought of her children and grandchildren, and how much she wanted to see them grow up.

Dr. Darshika Chhabra, a medical director and kidney specialist at Christ Hospital who has worked with Fitzmaurice for several years, described her story and how the donor gave her his kidney as Òpretty awesome.”

Asked how often she has seen people come into the hospital offering to donate a kidney, she said, ÒNot as often as we would like.”

But she cautioned that when people do offer to become donors, there is a process to go through to make sure someone is mentally and physically healthy.

ÒYou do have to be very careful… you have to make sure there are no mental issues.”

She said the donor saw a social worker, had great family support, was a regular blood donor and passed all the necessary tests before it was determined that his kidney would be a good match for Fitzmaurice.

ÒHe was completely selfless. He did his research and only wanted to help someone,” said the doctor. ÒIt is super rewarding and very fulfilling to work on cases like this. It’s very heartwarming and makes all our work worthwhile.”

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