Temple College 2006 LVN graduate Amy Stephens (left) donated one of her kidneys to her coworker Temple College 2006 LVN graduate Amy Stephens (left) donated one of her kidneys to her coworker's husband, Marco Rodriguez (right), after Marco's kidneys began to fail. (photo by Ana Rodriguez)

Marco Rodriguez needed a kidney transplant. His kidneys were failing, and every attempt to heal them with diet and medication had failed. He and his wife, Ana, and their family and friends had been searching desperately for a match from a living donor. After one promising donation fell through, they were facing the next step: dialysis.

However, before the Rodriguezes were forced to take that next step, Ana’s coworker Amy Stephens came forward and said she was a match. Amy, a 2006 graduate of Temple College’s Licensed Vocational Nursing program, works as a staff nurse at Riordan Medical Institute in Southlake, Texas, where Ana serves as the front office coordinator.

“I cried!” Ana said of the moment she learned Amy was a match. “We had just found out about three weeks prior that a potential donor fell through, and just started to accept Marco may have to start dialysis soon. Then Amy came up front to where I work and told me she was a match for Marco. She was giving my husband of 25 years a chance to have more time with our daughters and grandchildren.”

Ana began working at Riordan six years ago. Amy, who lives in Denton, has worked at Riordan the past three years. They both said the small staff at the Institute is like a family. As such, Amy said she had been following closely the Rodriguez family’s journey to find a living donor.

“When Marco’s condition worsened to the point that they were first urged to start thinking about looking for a living donor, I had a strange feeling that I would be the one to do it,” Amy said. “I could not stop thinking about it, but I didn’t tell anyone. When the first donor was disqualified, Ana was devastated and was dreading having to tell Marco and the rest of their family. She came back to my desk to tell me what had happened and was sobbing in my arms. That was the moment that I decided to stop thinking about it and take action. I filled out the application a few minutes later.”

‘Make a difference in the life of a friend’

During the pandemic, Amy said she watched a coworker battle COVID-19 and spend more than a month in the Intensive Care Unit. She knew others who died. Watching those battles and being unable to do anything other than wait for updates gave her a helpless feeling, she said.

“Through this time, we have all seen far too many people get sick and die, and I have been sad and scared and at times very angry,” Amy said.

She said that as a nurse she’d championed organ donation throughout her career and always felt it would be an honor to help someone in that way.

“When the opportunity to do this for Marco presented itself, it was a relief that I would actually be able to help,” Amy said. “I did it for Marco and Ana, but mentally this has been a very healing experience for me too. Being able to make a difference in the life of a friend is an experience that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.”

Successful surgeries

The surgeries occurred approximately six weeks ago at the Baylor Scott & White Annette C. and Harold C. Simmons Transplant Institute in Fort Worth. Amy’s kidney was removed and placed into Marco’s body. Both patients are doing well and continue to heal.

“The surgery went great. ‘Textbook’ is what the surgeon said when he came out to talk to us,” Ana said of her husband’s procedure. “Recovery was right on schedule, and today Marco is a week back at work and doing great. The difference I see in my husband is wonderful.”

For Amy, she said she still has some residual soreness and swelling, but she is back to regular activities and doing well.

She said her training at Temple College and her career as a nurse gave her an educated perspective as she engaged in the transplant process.

“I loved my time at Temple College and really feel like I got the best training for my chosen career. I do feel that my nursing education and career gave me a unique perspective,” Amy said. “I had never had surgery of any kind prior to this, but I knew a little bit about the process and I feel like I was able to ask the right questions and have a better understanding of what would be involved.”

Ana and Amy said their supervisors at Riordan worked everything out for them to take the time necessary for the surgeries and recuperation.

Building awareness of ‘Share Your Spare’

Ana and Amy said they are both determined to build awareness and champion organ donation – specifically donations from living donors.

They said that they’ve learned that 5 percent of kidney donations come from live donors, and they believe that there’s opportunity to grow that number.

For Amy, she wants to inspire others to make the same choice she made.

“There is such a huge need for organ donation,” she said. “This has been the most beautiful and uplifting experience for me and the surgery itself is not nearly as extensive as you would think. Don’t be afraid to ‘share your spare.’”

For Ana, she wants others to have the gift of time with their loved ones.

“People unfortunately do not know all the information about becoming a donor and all the resources they have for donors,” Ana said. “Marco was very fortunate to have found a match and not have to do dialysis. There are so many others that are not as fortunate and are even younger than Marco. Please learn about organ donation and ‘share your spare.’”