S.Ga. veteran donates kidney

·3 min read

Jul. 5—VALDOSTA — Lindsay Gutierrez, an Air Force veteran and resident of Nashville, is a living kidney donor.

Through a pageant experience, Gutierrez said she became an altruistic donor to another military veteran through the nonprofit, DOVE.

Her donor journey began at the American Elegance pageant in October 2021 when she met a pageant friend who expressed she had a friend in need of a kidney.

"I immediately volunteered to donate if I was compatible," Gutierrez said. "I always donate blood and never really thought about organ donation but I was willing to help in any way possible."

Fast forward to January, Gutierrez had become "Mrs. Georgia American Elegance 2022." While reading a magazine, she sees a donor advertisement for DOVE.

DOVE's goal is to find, educate, screen and support prospective living donors and then match those donors to a veteran awaiting transplant, according to the mission statement.

Gutierrez reminiscing on her recent pageant experience took the opportunity to contact the organization for more information.

She underwent intake with Shayrn Krieitzer, DOVE founder and executive director, and in April, she was officially considered a donor and began working with her transplant team at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

Gutierrez said she was extremely excited to not only be a donor to a fellow veteran but she began checking out the Yankees baseball schedule in hopes of catching a game while in New York.

In May, Gutierrez and her husband, Anthony, packed their bags and took a flight to New York where they spent the next two weeks while she prepared and recovered for her kidney donation surgery.

Earlier that month, Gutierrez found out she would be a part of a four-person chain swap, which was the first ever in Department of Veteran Affairs history, she said.

She met Wendy, a fellow donor and husband Reggie, who would be receiving Gutierrez kidney. While Wendy would donate her kidney to Kevin.

Gutierrez and Reggie underwent surgery May 25, following Wendy and Kevin who had their procedures May 24.

"Not only were all four procedures successful but they have proven to an important federal agency like the VA that chain donations between private and federal facilities can work," Gutierrez said. "These actions will hopefully open more options for other VA transplant hospitals to perform chain donation surgeries on veterans needing kidney transplants."

Following her recovery in the hospital, the Yankees baseball franchise and DOVE gave the Gutierrezes tickets to attend the June 2 game.

Gutierrez is now six weeks post op, home still recovering. She encourages readers to educate themselves on organ donation.

"The biggest questions I was asked is what happens if I ever need a kidney, how will I pay for everything and what about the risk for death?" Gutierrez said. "My answers to those questions are donors are able to live a healthy life after, your life can get back to normal outside of the recovery period. Being a donor doesn't negatively impact my chance to receive, actually because I am a donor I go to the top of the donor list. Financially, there are a lot of grants, along with the recipient's insurance or their means to cover expenses for donors."

She continued, "DOVE makes it possible through community based, recipients are always veterans, which is unique. I feel it is important to speak about our experiences to raise awareness because there are so many people out there in need of organs. I encourage people to do their research and ask questions. You never know if you might be the person to help save a life."

Gutierrez and her husband plan to hike Mount Kilimanjaro in March 2023 for World Kidney Day. This November, she will use her pageant platform to speak about organ donation advocacy, education and awareness not just locally but throughout the U.S.

Anyone interested in donating to the March 2023 charity trek to raise awareness for living kidney donation and fundraiser for DOVE, contact lindsay.n.gutierrez@gmail.com or via social media Facebook: www.facebook.com/mrsgaae and Instagram: www.instagram.com/linds_gutierrez.