Kim Hoyt, 38, is a nurse supervisor with Cheyenne Cardiology Associates. She has been with the clinic for more than four years and is passionate about her work. “I love helping others, and I love the people I work with.” Kim is also a wife and mom to two children, a 6-year-old and 16-year-old. Her family, she says, is “her life.”
But this life Kim so treasures nearly came to an end last fall.
Kim has had type 1 diabetes and kidney disease since she was a child. When her one working kidney started to fail 10 years ago, Kim underwent a transplant with a kidney donated by a close relative.
Two years ago, Kim’s donated kidney also started to fail, and she was placed on the list for another kidney. Initially Kim was told that she might have to wait three years. In 2017 that wait time had grown to five years as the number of people needing a kidney has continued to increase.
“It was a concern since my functioning kidney wasn’t working well,” Kim says, quietly.
As of last summer, Kim could no longer kayak or take part in karate and kickboxing with her family. She was exhausted and out of breath most of time. Without a new kidney, she could die.
Kim has faced this fear a few times. She had a stroke two years ago, due to the high blood pressure caused by her kidney disease. She also suffers from the autoimmune disease lupus and has undergone a pancreas transplant.
Though Kim was struggling, few people knew about her condition. Fewer still knew how serious it was.
By nature, Kim is quiet and reserved. Her focus extends outward, on caring for others—her family, patients, friends and co-workers.
“I was doing my best to keep on with life, but it was getting harder and harder,” she says.
New friendship offers chance at life
Crys’Dawna Cusson, 33, is vivacious and outgoing, her short hair highlighted with wine-colored streaks. She spends her days caring for her two children, a 21-month-old and five-year-old. Crys’Dawna also restores vintage furniture through Bella Renovare, the business she founded and which, translated, means “beautiful” and “new life.”
Long-distance running is another of Crys’Dawna’s passions. She especially enjoys competing in marathons and half marathons.
When Kim and Crys’Dawna met, nearly three years ago now, they enjoyed an easy friendship, getting together when their busy families and lives would allow.
But that friendship would quickly transform into something much more.
Crys’Dawna learned about Kim’s health crisis last summer.
“My husband ran into her husband and asked why he was upset,” Crys’Dawna says. “They had just found out that the wait for a donor kidney was up to five years. Kim wasn’t going to make it that long.”
Crys’Dawna thought about what it would be like to be in Kim’s situation: “Being a nurse, Kim has such a big impact on other people’s lives. And she has a young family to take care of.”
Crys’Dawna was in great health and had been her whole life. She couldn’t imagine living with the challenges Kim had faced. Giving a kidney didn’t seem too big a sacrifice to save her friend’s life.
And there was another reason Crys’Dawna felt compelled to help: “My dad died when I was young. No kid should lose a parent. That’s just not OK.”
In August Crys’Dawna applied to be a living kidney donor for Kim.
For Crys’Dawna, the first step was to go through a battery of tests, to determine her health status and to see if one of her kidneys would be a good match.
“I went down to Aurora, to UCHealth. They took 17 vials of blood from me. They tested me for everything,” Crys’Dawna says, laughing.
The results showed that Crys’Dawna was in “picture perfect health,” she says.
The results also showed that Crys’Dawna and Kim had enough genetic markers in common that Crys’Dawna could donate a kidney to Kim.
“I remember the day I got the call,” Crys’Dawna says. “I was sitting on the floor painting a piece of furniture. They told me that they had good news for me. That I could donate my kidney to Kim.”
Then came what Crys’Dawna calls the “hiccup.”
Further tests showed that the Cry’Dawna’s donor kidney had three renal arteries. The surgeons were concerned that third artery might disqualify Crys’Dawna from donating to Kim, whose kidney only had two renal arteries. It was unclear if that extra artery might cause problems. The transplant team asked if Crys’Dawna would consider donating her kidney to someone else.
“I really felt like I was supposed to do this for Kim,” she says. “I asked them if there was any way they could make this work.”
‘Everything went great’
Kim, meanwhile, tried not to get her hopes up. She was also careful not to put any pressure on Crys’Dawna.
“Everyone involved in this process wants to be sure you know what you are getting into,” Crys’Dawna says. “If anything, they try to talk you out of it. They told me Kim had options, like dialysis. But she works and has a family. And to look at her, you just knew that she was getting sicker. Dialysis didn’t seem like a good option.”
Despite all attempts to talk her out of donating, and despite the renal artery “hiccup,” Crys’Dawna said she “just knew” that she was meant to give a kidney to Kim.
“In the end, everything went great,” Crys’Dawna says. “The transplant surgeons did extensive mapping of the kidneys and found a way to make it work.”
The transplant took place on December 5 at the UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital.
Kim had been in the hospital for the one week leading up to the surgery, in critical condition.
After the surgery, “you could already see she was doing better,” says Crys’Dawna, who was recovering in the bed next to Kim. “She had color in her face again.”
‘I’d do it all over again’
These days, Crys’Dawna is back to her old self, restoring furniture, caring for her children, running and playing recreational volleyball and softball. Her recovery has gone so well that she plans to compete in a marathon at the end of May.
Kim is on the mend, too. She can kayak, kickbox and karate again. She spends as much time as she can “just being” with her sons and husband. And she is back at Cheyenne Cardiology Associates, doing the work that she loves.
“I feel 21 again!” she says.
Kim’s renewed energy is readily apparent as she helps tend to Crys’Dawna’s toddler during the interview.
Both Crys’Dawna and Kim have shared their story freely, hoping to inspire others to become an organ donor and to even consider becoming a living donor.
“There are so many people in need,” Crys’Dawna says. “Five years is a long time to wait for a kidney, and it’s likely that many of the people on the list are in a situation similar to Kim’s.”
Despite their enthusiasm, Kim and Crys’Dawna want people to understand that the screening process is rigorous. No one will be accepted who isn’t physically healthy enough or mentally prepared, they say. They also want people to know that anyone who donates an organ is put at the top of the wait list if something should happen that would require them to need an organ.
“If I could, I’d do it all over again!” Crys’Dawna says.
The transplant team and Kim’s local nephrologist, Dr. A. J. Meares, are also the best, the two friends agree.
“The team that worked on us has so much experience,” Crys’Dawna says. “One of the surgeons has been doing this since the 1980s.”
Dr. Meares also checks on Kim between her appointments with him in Cheyenne. “He will show up at my desk at work just to see how I’m doing,” Kim smiles.
When describing the impact of the kidney donation on their lives, the women say that it has been transformative.
For Crys’Dawna, being a donor is part of her identity. “If you can do something to save someone’s life, why wouldn’t you? This is part of who I am now.”
For Kim, her friend’s donation was “the ultimate gift,” she says. “It means everything to me and my family. It means life.”
For more information about how to become an organ donor, contact Donor Alliance at www.organdonationalliance.org.
Posted: May 2018