Some holidays are more memorable than others. For Jillian Laudenslager, there was the Christmas she gave her kidney to a perfect stranger.
Jillian always knew she wanted to work in healthcare. In high school, as her plans of becoming a nurse took shape, she joined other students on a trip to the Philadelphia headquarters of the Gift of Life Donor Program. “Their work inspired me. From that day forward, I knew at some point in my life, I’d probably donate a kidney to help someone in need,” Laudenslager says.
Little did she realize that the gift she considered giving as a student would eventually impact her own family. About seven years ago, her father-in-law’s kidney began to fail. He required dialysis and would eventually need a transplant.
Laudenslager underwent the blood testing that determines whether a kidney will be a good match. While her kidney wasn’t an exact match for her father-in-law, she learned she was able to participate in a paired kidney exchange, which allows living donors to be matched up with other donors who are compatible.
It took three years to find the right match for her father-in-law. “Then we got the call,” Laudenslager says. Her father-in-law would receive a kidney from a completely anonymous donor.
The kidney received from an anonymous donor has greatly improved her father-in-law’s quality of life. “My children got their grandfather back,” she says. “He’s been off dialysis for two years. He’s able to do projects around the house again, fix things up, cut the grass, things he couldn’t do before.”
“My father-in-law’s experience played an important role in my decision to donate. A lot went through our minds—what if our children need a kidney? What if I can’t help my husband if he needs one down the road? But ultimately, I chose to donate.”
While Laudenslager hasn’t yet met the person who received her kidney, she’s grateful for the opportunity to give to others. “It’s very rewarding to have a part in improving someone else’s quality of life,” she says.
Now, Laudenslager, a registered nurse and the Director of Surgical Services at Grand View Health, is spearheading the hospital’s participation in the Hospital and Health System Association of Pennsylvania’s 2022 Donate Life Hospital Challenge. The goal is to increase the awareness of organ donation statewide with the hopes of saving more lives.
According to DonateLife.net, more than 100,000 people are waiting for a lifesaving transplant. Organs that can be donated include the kidney, pancreas, liver, lungs, heart and intestines.