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Stranger provides best gift — a kidney — for Burbank grandma

DonnFitzmaurice Burbank Ill. (with her husbDennis) will have more than new year celebrate. For her 2013 will begnew future thanks

Donna Fitzmaurice of Burbank, Ill. (with her husband Dennis) will have more than a new year to celebrate. For her, 2013 will begin a new future, thanks to a stranger from Palos Hills who walked into Advocate Christ Medical Center earlier this year and simply announced that he wanted to donate a kidney. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 26, 2013 6:21AM



For 60-year-old Donna Fitzmaurice and her family, this year brought home the true meaning of Christmas.

“Giving something of yourself that nobody else ever would, and giving it to a stranger — making life better for someone else — that’s the greatest Christmas gift I could ever have gotten,” the Burbank grandmother said Monday.

It’s the first year Fitzmaurice hasn’t spent Christmas Eve getting kidney dialysis — because Christmas is one of only two days the center is closed.

That’s because earlier this year a stranger walked in off the street at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn and asked to donate his kidney to someone — anyone — who needed it.

The stranger was Joseph Trent, 26, of Palos Hills, an electrician who says it was no big deal. He knew there was a need and just wanted to help someone. That somebody ended up being Fitzmaurice.

“If you could help somebody — I learned rehabilitation afterward was three to six weeks — if you could give somebody the rest of their life back, three weeks for somebody’s life is nothing,” said the single man, who also often gives blood.

Fitzmaurice, a mother of two with four grandchildren, was diagnosed with a kidney disease, focal segmental glomerulosclerosis in 2005. She had been waiting on the kidney transplant list since 2006.

“It’s absolutely fantastic,” said Dr. Deepak Mital, surgical director of kidney transplantation at Advocate Christ, who performed the transplant.

“Last March, this gentleman walks in the door of our transplant center and says, ‘I want to donate my kidney.’ Usually, it’s for a family member or friend. We ask him who it’s intended for, and he says ‘Anybody,’ ” Mital said.

“Of course alarm bells go off. We’re very protective of people wanting to donate. They have to be 100 percent medically fit and psychologically normal,” he said.

Trent was. “Turns out he’s just a nice, young man,” Mital said.

So the Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network was contacted. About 117,000 people nationwide are waiting for organ transplants, with about a fifth achieved each year. An average of 18 people die each day while waiting, according to Gift of Hope. In 2011, more than 300 people registered in Illinois died while waiting.

Gift of Hope forwarded to Advocate Christ the person at the top of the registry list who had been waiting the longest and with whom Trent was a transplant match.

“You get depressed,” said Fitzmaurice, whose formerly active life became consumed with dialysis and fatigue.

The transplant surgery was on May 2. After some complications, her body has accepted the kidney.

“My main thing was to see my grandchildren grow up,” she said. “When they told me we had a match, I didn’t believe them. I started crying. I met Mr. Trent the day after the surgery. We only had a brief moment because he was leaving. He was in pain and wanted to go home. He just told me to live my life to the best and fullest I can now. I call him my angel.”

Said Trent: “My parents raised us to do what you can to help others. I would do it again in a heartbeat and I tell everybody they should do it too if they can.”

In Illinois and Indiana, you must be 18 to register as an organ and tissue donor.

For more information, go to www.giftofhope.org. or Advocate Christ.



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