The email from a parent at her school in May 2013 took Nancy Shaver, an elementary school principal, by surprise. It was from Kati Walker, mother of two, who was on a mission: to donate one of her kidneys to Nancy, who greatly needed one.
Kati's message announced, "I'm going to be tested to be a kidney donor." Nancy, in her characteristic unassuming manner, replied, "Oh, how nice for someone!" Kati quickly replied, "No, it's for you, silly!"
Kati knew Nancy only as the principal at her children’s school. Nancy knew Kati as a parent and active volunteer. But their email exchange launched a journey to a life-saving kidney transplant for Nancy and a bond between the two women that they attest will last a lifetime.
Nancy had been dealing with polycystic kidney disease, a disorder that caused cysts to develop in her kidneys, reducing their ability to work properly. Her declining kidney function sapped her energy and put her at risk of needing kidney dialysis.
An email from the school district in Cave Creek, Arizona, had gone out to parents noting that Nancy was ill and needed a kidney. The message brought a flood of responses from people willing to be tested. At Mayo Clinic’s Arizona campus, staff rallied to begin the comprehensive testing process for the potential donors. Kati, a marketing manager in Scottsdale, didn't worry about the possibility of not being accepted.
"I would have been shocked if I had been bumped from the list," she says. "To me it was a God thing. It just felt right, and I knew I was supposed to do this."
Kati 's instincts were spot-on. Her donor evaluation went well, and in September 2013, she was approved to be Nancy's kidney donor. In her office at Lone Mountain Elementary School, Nancy received the news that a donor had been identified, and they could proceed with the transplant.
"I sat down and cried," she admits. "It was such a relief. Then I called my husband. It was a day I will never forget."
Nancy's successful kidney transplant took place on Jan. 7, 2014, at Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix, where she says she awoke in recovery to hear "a lot of beeping going on, and to see wonderful Mayo nurses" tending to her needs and making sure her family members were kept comfortable and informed.
Following her recovery from the transplant surgery, Nancy was greeted by students with cheers and a song they had written. Aware of Nancy's limitations and need to avoid germs, the students had cordoned off the area near Nancy’s office with caution tape and posted signs, warning, "No Hugs!" Nancy appreciated their efforts, although she adds, "That was hard. I love to hug my kids."
Kati, who was discharged from the hospital two days after her kidney donor surgery, was back at work and back in the gym in a little over a month. She is all-in for the cause of organ donation, participating in fundraisers, walks and education campaigns. Her image even appeared on a billboard in Phoenix proclaiming, “I am a living kidney donor. Donate a Kidney. Save a Life.”
Now Kati and Nancy text each other often and share coffee dates on Sundays. “We are in this for the long haul,” Kati says. Nancy, with renewed energy since the transplant, marvels, "I can continue doing what I like to do, and my biggest outcome is that I have a lifelong friend.”
As for what it meant to Kati, she tells Nancy, “I feel like the winner in all this.”