EASTON For almost five years, St. Michaels resident Sandy Saboury watched her father endure dialysis several times a week, disrupting any plans made for those days and basically disabling him from enjoying his retirement.
"I watched him work his whole entire life and then close to his retirement, he started getting sick," she said, explaining that her father, Jim Shomler, needed a kidney transplant to end his dialysis visits. "It just wiped him out."
Family members, unfortunately, weren't a match for Shomler, 72, and so he was added to the cadaver wait list, which translated into about a five-year waiting period, she said.
However, doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore informed her of the kidney exchange program, in which Saboury would donate one of her kidneys to a compatible recipient and, in return, Shomler would receive a kidney from a compatible living donor.
"There's four living donors and four recipients ... it's like a chain," she said, referring to the procedure.
Wanting to give her father a better quality of life, Saboury, 37, made the decision with her husband, Joe, last December to participate in the exchange program.
"He saw how much I wanted to help my father," she said, regarding Joe's support of the procedure. "Knowing that I could live normally with one less kidney and continue to live as a pretty healthy person and have another child later in life if I wanted to ... made me feel better."
With Shomler's early December birthday fast approaching, Saboury submitted the necessary paperwork to the medical center as a birthday gesture, she said.
"I just wanted to see what would happen," she said. "I hadn't heard anything in a while and then, in early June, I got a package in the mail."
The package she received asked Saboury to submit more blood work to ensure she was a match for a recipient in the program and, at the same time, she said, her father's potential living donor was submitting similar blood work.
"I was excited," she said, smiling. "Dad was excited, but he was afraid to be too excited because he didn't want to be disappointed. He definitely kept his cool throughout the whole thing."
Less than two months later, Saboury and her father arrived at the hospital, anxiously awaiting surgery. Shomler's surgery was the first of the day, Saboury recalled, and she followed after his was complete.
"Everything went great," she said, admitting that all she wanted to do was return home and see her two kids, Noah, 4, and Laylah, 2, who were staying with their aunt at her house in Chincoteague, Va. "I'd never been away from my 2-year-old before ... so that was literally the hardest part for me, leaving them behind."
The surgery took place July 27, and within a few days, Saboury said she felt great. The procedure, which makes a small incision through the belly button, left Saboury with small scar the only visible evidence of her surgery and some slight numbness in her left leg, she said, which she hopes will eventually disappear. Although her father suffered some complications immediately following the procedure, such as a minor heart attack, his recovery continues to improve.
"He's healing great. He's lost weight, he's moving around, he's able to exercise more. You can just hear it in his voice," she said. "The kidney's working great and the doctors are happy."
The hospital leaves it up to the recipients to contact their donors if they wish to do so. Although Saboury's recipient has yet to contact her, Shomler has spoken to his donor and plans to meet with her in the near future, she said. Once fully recovered, Shomler, like Saboury, will live a normal life, she said.
"I know I did the right thing," Saboury said. "The main reason I did it was for my dad. And I want to be a great role model for my kids."
Saboury cited the strong support from family and friends as influencing her decision to agree to the procedure and as a major factor in speeding her recovery. And despite the numbness in her leg, she looks back on the experience fondly.
"It's amazing what a difference (donating a kidney) can make in someone's life," she said. "I hope that people listen to this story and kind of open their minds to (organ) donation."
For more information on the exchange program, visit www.umm.edu/kidney_exchange.