JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Any organ donation is an act of generosity, whether the donor is living or deceased, whether the recipient is a friend or a stranger.
But in cases like Kandis John's and Siena Garcia’s, both donor and recipient wind up with a gain.
Wednesday evening, Siena, Kandis, and other friends celebrated the end of Siena’s month-long quarantine. On Jan. 8, Siena received one of Kandis’ kidneys in a dual operation.
“I couldn’t sit back and not try to do something about it,” Kandis told First Coast News as we sat down outside a Mandarin restaurant.
The story had begun in 2000, when Siena was diagnosed with a prenatal condition that caused her body to attack her own kidneys. Her life was in danger until her aunt was found to be a match and gave a living donation in 2002.
But even the lifespan of a compatible match has its limitations. The condition of the received organ and the age of the donor are among a host of factors. Not unexpectedly – in part because her aunt is a generation older – Siena’s donated kidney began to show signs of failure about five years ago. She eventually learned she would have to go back on dialysis – no easy task for someone juggling full-time work and parenthood – and she would have to go back on a waiting list.
“They told me it was going to be six to eight years [to wait],” Siena said.
Siena and Kandis have worked together in radiology at UF Health in Jacksonville for about 11 years. They formed a close friendship about two years into that time. When Kandis heard about Siena’s crisis, she paid close attention.
“In the beginning,” Kandis described, “it was always, ‘Siena, you ready for my kidney?!’”
Those conversations often happened at lunch.
“And I would be eating,” Siena detailed, “and I would go, ‘Whatever!’”
But it wasn’t just casual needling. Last July, Kandis very quietly began investigating whether she might be a compatible donor for Siena. It was the start of a four-month battery of blood and tissue sampling, personal health history research, and even interviews, all to ensure that Kandis’ kidney might be a match for Siena.
The good news came in late November, with a scheduled surgery date of January 8th.
“I remember us sitting there thinking, ‘Gosh, that seems like such a long time’,” Kandis recalled.
Siena says the holiday season helped make the time pass a little more quickly, but both women say the wait could play tricks on their minds.
“I never knew she was serious until, like literally, that morning in the operating room,” Siena said.
But there was no doubt in Kandis’ mind despite being mother to two young children herself. The two friends wouldn’t see much of each other the day of the procedure.
“I FaceTimed her before surgery. She was in her room and I was in my room, getting all prepped for surgery,” said Kandis.
When they finally saw each other again the next day, it was hard to embrace one another.
“We had to do this,” Siena said with a laugh, pantomiming a very tentative hug, “because of sutures."
But that temporary tenderness has already yielded to an unprecedented closeness.
“Probably too close!” said Siena.
Evident by the ribbing the two continue sharing.
“Do you feel like you’ve lost weight” Siena asked in mock seriousness, “with missing an organ?!”
But as they prepared to celebrate with other friends, they also shared an appreciation for the gravity of all that they have endured together.
“No words to describe, really, how thankful I am,” Siena said with a tear. “I can never repay it.”
Kandis deflected that glory and rejected the implication of debt.
“I feel that what I did, you know, was just something good that I could do for her."
According to the American Transplant Foundation, almost 115,000 Americans are on waiting lists to receive organ donations. As many as eight lives can be saved by the organs of one person in a deceased donation.
Kandis pointed out that although 95 percent of U.S. adults claim to support organ donation, only 54 percent are registered to donate. Also, about 80 percent of donations come from deceased donors; 20 percent are living donations.
To register to donate in Florida, use the following link: https://www.donatelifeflorida.org/register/
To register in Georgia, use the following link: https://www.donatelifegeorgia.org/register/