Allison Batson has given a whole new meaning to "the gift of life." Going above and beyond her duties as a nurse helping to save patients' lives, she donated her kidney to one last week.
The recipient is Clay Taber, whose kidneys failed nearly two years ago. The Auburn University graduate was being treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta in the summer of 2010 when he met the 48-year-old transplantation nurse.
Taber, 23, had just graduated from Auburn in Alabama and moved back with his family in Columbus, Ga., when he became ill.
"I kept having night sweats and then that developed into fevers and chills," Taber said. "Then I felt a lot of fatigue and completely lost my appetite."
Taber had already lost more than 20 pounds, his mother frantically doing everything possible to get his appetite back to normal. They decided to go to a physician for help. The doctors immediately ran blood tests.
Taber's mother, Sandra Taber, received a call from their doctor Aug. 27, 2010, saying her son needed to be rushed to the hospital immediately because he'd gone into complete kidney failure.
Taber was admitted into Doctors Hospital in Columbus, where after five days of testing he was diagnosed with Goodpasture's Syndrome, a rare disease that affects about 1 in a million people per year.
Researchers don't have a full understanding of how the disease surfaces, but it is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system creates an antibody that attacks the lungs and kidneys.
Taber began dialysis for his kidneys as well as plasmapheresis, a treatment for Goodpasture's Syndrome where a patient's blood is filtered in order to separate the red and white blood cells from the plasma and then returned to the body.
"I was just trying to start my life, start my career, even wanted to propose to my girlfriend soon and then I had to deal with all this. It was frustrating," Taber said.
He was transferred to Emory University Hospital, which specializes in kidney and autoimmune diseases.
That's when nurse Batson found out that a young man with renal failure was being transferred to her hospital.
"It hit close to home because I have kids between the ages of 16 and 27. I thought it wasn't fair," Batson said, adding that her father died of liver disease in 1995.
Dubbed the "cheerleader of floor 7G at Emory University Hospital," Batson went into Taber's room and said, "I heard there's a good looking young man in here."
Batson and Taber's family grew close in the next month. She offered sympathy and a shoulder to cry on for Taber's mother, and went on frequent coffee breaks with her.
She even became a friend to Taber and exchanged ideas on how to propose to his future fiancee. "The funny thing is she was rarely the nurse assigned to me," Taber said. "She would come in on her own every day after her shift."
Taber was discharged but continued his dialysis treatment in Columbus. He and his family returned to Emory once a month for checkups and would always make it a point to see Batson.
It wasn't until a year later, in August of 2011, that doctors found Taber fit for a transplant. He would then try to join the 90,000 people living in the United States waiting for a kidney.
Batson said it takes more than a year to get on a deceased donor list because of the Goodpasture's Syndrome Taber had been diagnosed with.
"The donor networks want to be sure that a patient is well in remission after a diagnosis like that in order to make sure that the transplant isn't in vain," Batson said.
He got on a list six months ago, she said.
Dr. Michael Millis, director of the University of Chicago's Transplant Center, said the length of testing and the wait to get on a list depends on the disease.
"Tests can be done in a relatively short time but if treatment needs to be done before receiving an organ transplant, that treatment may take a while and, in this case, doctors felt it may take a year or so in order for his body to accept a kidney," Millis said.
Taber's mother began undergoing testing to see whether she'd be a match. At that point, Batson approached Sandra Taber, 54, with an unexpected offer.
"I discussed it with my husband, I'm the same O-positive blood type, our children are grown and healthy, I'm healthy, so why not?" Batson said. "It breaks my heart he just wanted to start his life. I've seen my children start their lives and he deserves that."
Batson told Sandra Taber that if for any reason she or anyone else in their circle was not able to donate a kidney that she would be willing to.
"My mother came and told me what Allison said and I just broke down crying," Taber said. "I told her that she didn't have to do that but that just her offering that is incredible."
After several tests, doctors determined that Taber's mother was not able to be a donor. Unfortunately, the lining of her kidneys were too thin for transplantation so it was determined surgery would not be safe. Once again, Batson approached the mother in grief and reminded her that her offer to be a donor still stands.
After several weeks of testing, doctors determined they were a match and Batson was healthy enough to undergo surgery. "I was so excited and I wasn't afraid at all," Batson said. "I trust our program and our surgeons and I've seen amazing outcomes."
Taber and Batson underwent transplant surgery last week. They have been discharged from the hospital and say they are well and on the road to a full recovery.
About 37 percent of kidney transplants performed nationwide are made possible by living donors, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing . Most living donors are family members of the recipient but a growing number do not have a family relationship.
Dr. Millis said he has experienced heath care providers donating an organ to a patient at his institution as well.
"We've had a transplant financial coordinator donate and others in our organization," Millis said. "It really demonstrates all the good of society and certainly of health care providers to give this terrific gift."
Dr. Jeffrey Punch, chief of the Section of Transplantation Surgery at the University of Michigan, said such donations are uncommon but that there are good outcomes when people are not blood relatives.
"Finding a match is much less important than it used to be," Punch said. "The most important thing is finding a person healthy enough to be allowed to donate that is willing."
Taber said Batson has now become his third mom. "I have my mom, my fiancée's mom, and I have her," he said. "She's adopted me as a son and she'll get a special dance at my wedding this summer. I told her she gets to pick the song."
Batson said her goal is to promote donation in hopes of helping the 112,624 people still waiting for organ transplants.
"It's not just about signing it on your driver's license," she said. "A kidney donation, for example, is just a few weeks from your life that you're transferring into more years for another person's life."