For 20 years, Nancy Miller always thought about the idea of organ donation. In 2010, she donated a kidney that saved not one, but two lives.
Sunday she will participate in the National Kidney Foundation of Maryland's 10th annual Baltimore Kidney Walk at the Baltimore Zoo.
Working in a dialysis unit at a hospital in the 1980s before living donation was an option, Miller said she watched a lot of people die waiting for kidneys.
In 2001, she read about the ability for donors to give kidneys and thought it was a great idea after seeing so many people suffer during her time working at the hospital.
"In 2004 I really put it into thought and decided, 'I could do this,'" she said. "I prayed and researched and read and it took me four years to decide to do it. One day I woke up and decided I would do it."
Saving Two Lives
She began the donation process in 2008 and was presented with the opportunity to help save two lives in 2009.
After learning she wasn't a match for the wife of a man she worked with, she signed up for the paired kidney exchange program through the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC).
Under the program, when a prospective donor is not a match for a patient, the pair is entered into a database.
"The program is designed for patients who have a living donor that is otherwise healthy and suitable for donation but incompatible with their intended recipient," according to UMMC's website.
Once a compatible recipient is found who is a match for the donor, and vice versa, the exchange takes place.
This was the case for Miller and Cindy Wickesser of Sykesville. Miller worked as a contractor with Wickesser's husband, Craig, but she'd only bumped into him at work twice.
Another coworker learned of Cindy Wickesser's kidney failure—and knew of Miller's desire to donate—and put them together.
"A coworker told Nancy about my wife and she said she'd donate her kidney," Craig Wickesser said. "She hadn't even met my wife before. I couldn't get over that she wanted to do that for someone she hadn't even met yet."
Miller was not a match for Cindy Wickesser but the paired kidney exchange program matched her with someone else. In January 2010, Miller donated her kidney to a man in Minnesota and that man's wife then donated a kidney to Cindy Wickesser.
It is Cindy Wickesser's second donated kidney. Her husband donated his kidney to her in 2003, but it began to fail.
"My wife's been doing very good with this kidney," Craig Wickesser said. "Some implants turn out better than others. She had a rough time with my kidney. ... The doctors have told her that this was as good as it was going to get."
Cindy and Craig Wickesser donated to Miller's kidney walk team, Donor Divas & Dudes, and plan to walk the 1.6 miles on Sunday.
"We're very blessed and fortunate that Nancy would step up and do something like this. She's a special lady," Craig Wickesser said.
Educating About Living Donation
Miller said she knew she wanted to do something to benefit organ donation and fighting kidney disease when she and her friend Teri George decided to participate in the kidney walk.
"Amazingly after I donated, I met so many incredible people, mostly donors, and we all have the same passion: we don't believe that there is enough publicity about living donations," she said. "I got [a tattoo] on my wrist to help spark conversations."
Miller's voice gets excited as she talks about the need for living donors.
"I am just so passionate about this. Every month, 2,000 more names are added to the waiting list and 18 people will die each day waiting for a kidney. This shouldn't be so. We can live a fully healthy life with just one kidney," she said.
And she wants to donate again.
"I'm trying to sign up to be a liver donor, but hospitals are shying away from double donors," she said.
After initially setting a goal of raising $200, Donor Divas & Dudes have raised more than $2,300. The team has raised the third-highest amount of money for the walk.
"I said that if we came in first, I'd shave my head," Miller said. "We have until the day of the walk—I'll still do it."
To donate to Donor Divas & Dudes visit: donate.kidney.org/site/TR?pg=team&fr_id=4480&team_id=111325.