Kitty, the Refurbished Kidney

Kitty, the Refurbished Kidney
Dowan McNair-Lee, right, accepts a gift of appreciation after donating a kidney to her mother, Anola.

Anola McNair, who had her left kidney removed following the growth of a tumor, wasn’t sure about organ donation; though she needed a new kidney, she was reluctant to learn more. “I just wasn’t feeling the whole thing,” she recalled. “I’m thinking, ‘I don’t know, I don’t want to [think about this].’”

She delayed a decision on getting a transplant until her appointment at the GW Transplant Institute, when she saw her doctor, J. Keith Melancon, chief of the Division of Transplant Surgery, director of the GW Transplant Institute at GW Hospital, and professor of surgery at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

“I didn’t know who the donor was going to be until the day I came [to the GW Transplant Institute], and Dr. Melancon said, ‘Who’s your donor?’” McNair said. That’s when her daughter, Dowan McNair-Lee, who had accompanied her to the appointment, said “I am.”

“It kind of happened,” said McNair-Lee. “They explained the process, and I [said], ‘I can do that.’” She underwent testing and turned out to be a match.

While it isn’t unusual for one family member to donate to another, the McNairs’ case was unique. “The kidney that I donated ended up having a cancerous tumor,” said McNair-Lee, adding that it was just like her mother’s earlier, largely asymptomatic tumor. “In me donating a kidney to my mom, I ended up saving my own life … I would never have known that this was even an issue had I not gone through this process.”

During the surgery, which took place two months after McNair-Lee offered to donate, Melancon cleaned the tumor from the kidney – which the mother and daughter have nicknamed “Kitty, the refurbished kidney” – and transferred it to McNair, who reported that “today I’m doing great … Kitty is doing very, very well.”

“Had it not been for this institute,” she added, “I’m not sure where we would’ve been.”

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