JACKSON TWP — The only thing that bothers Cranberry Township native and kidney donor Sue Platt is when people heap praise on her for being generous.
Platt gave a kidney to her best friend, Patti McNair, in August
“Honestly, I was being a bit selfish because I want to have my friend forever,” Platt said. “I didn’t want her to die.”
Platt’s odyssey into the world of organ donation began in August 2016 when a co-worker at West Penn Hospital told her their mutual friend McNair had been placed on the transplant list due to stage four kidney disease.
Platt and McNair had met in 1980 while both were enrolled in nursing school at West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh. The pair and another student nurse became lifelong friends.
Platt knew McNair had been diagnosed with kidney function disease in December 2015, and she pledged one of her kidneys should McNair ever need a transplant.
On a fall 2016 trip to Ohio to visit the third nurse in their trio of best friends, Platt forced McNair to come clean.
“I confronted her and I said ‘Hey, I think you forgot to tell me something,’” Platt recalled.
Once it was discovered both women have O+ blood type, Platt called the transplant team at Allegheny General Hospital.
She was interviewed by a transplant coordinator and asked “very, very personal questions” before submitting to a day of blood work, chest X-ray and electrocardiogram.
“If you pass that part of it, then they keep moving on,” Platt said.
Platt then met with her AGH donor team, which includes a social worker, a recent donor, nephrologist, surgeon and a team of nurses.
“They want to make you aware that they are not going to compromise your health for the recipient,” Platt said.
Before it was official Platt would donate a kidney to McNair, Platt had to talk to her employers at B.C. Becton about taking the time off to prepare for and recover from the surgery.
After 35 years as a nurse at West Penn Hospital, Platt had only been employed at Becton for a year and a half.
“I confronted my boss and told him about Patti, and he said ‘That’s awesome’ because he had donated his kidney to his sister 30 years before,” Platt said.
She learned the company has an organ transplant policy and would only use five of her vacation days before putting Platt on paid disability until she was able to return to work eight weeks later.
Platt decided she would put her name on the national organ donor list so she could give a kidney to a stranger if she was ineligible to donate the organ to her friend.
“I knew I wanted to help Patti, but then I thought of these people who are giving the gift of life to someone they don’t even know,” Platt said. “By March I knew that I had passed all of my testing and was definitely a tissue match (for McNair).”
Finally, Aug. 11, 2017, arrived, which the two friends called “K Day.”
Platt arrived at Allegheny General Hospital at 5 a.m. with her family and met McNair and her family.
“We got prepped, and I was able to see her before we went to surgery,” Platt said. “It was exciting and kind of nerve-racking.”
The surgeons removed Platt’s healthy kidney and placed it in McNair. Platt said she was told the minute the new kidney was connected, all of McNair’s kidney levels immediately dropped to normal.
A common misconception in kidney transplant surgery, Platt said, is that the diseased kidney is removed. The new kidney is placed on top of the failing kidney and connected.
Platt spent two pain-free days in the hospital and McNair a more challenging three, but not before Platt went to McNair’s room down the hall to help her friend walk a bit with a walker.
“Her daughter said, ‘I can picture you two walking down the hall in a nursing home someday,’” Platt recalled. “We said ‘Shut up.’”
McNair said she was ill and fatigued before the surgery and on the verge of being placed on dialysis. She was also on a strict “kidney diet” and could only work certain shifts as a nurse because of fatigue.
Today, McNair is back to working three 12-hour shifts per week at the hospital and recalls waking up from the surgery without the nagging feeling of illness that had plagued her before the transplant.
McNair said she can feel Platt’s kidney on her lower stomach, where there is a small bump.
“She’s incredible,” McNair said of Platt. “She would do anything for you. And I mean anything, obviously.”
She said Platt never asked for time to think about donating her kidney, whether to McNair or a stranger.
“I kept asking, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’” McNair said. “She never hesitated once.”
While it took some time for McNair to return to normal because she had been ill for 1½ years, she is now almost as well as she was before her diagnosis.
McNair said her new kidney should function normally as long as she lives. She takes anti-rejection drugs, watches her sodium intake and has blood work every two weeks to ensure the kidney is functioning properly.
“I was actually more worried about her,” McNair said of the surgery. “I thought ‘What if something happens to her just because she is doing this for me?’”
Platt brushes off any praise for her donation, and laughs because McNair and her parents are constantly trying to do nice things for her.
“It was a great thing,” Platt said. “It was a blessing in all ways.”