Kindness of a stranger: Woman donates kidney to her customer

July 28, 2013|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE |
  • Deanna Henderson, assistant branch manager of M&T Banks Wormans Mill Branch in Frederick, Md., left, donated a kidney to Carla Watts, a regular customer. The two barely knew each other when Henderson offered to donate.
Colleen McGrath / Colleen McGrath

FREDERICK, Md. — It can be called a bank withdrawal and deposit of a different kind for two Frederick women.

Deanna Henderson, assistant branch manager of M&T Bank’s Worman’s Mill Branch in Frederick, recently donated a kidney to a bank customer, Carla Watts of Frederick.

Henderson, of Frederick and a Boonsboro native, said she only knew Watts in passing from coming into the bank. She said they didn’t have any other relationship than a friendly hello when Watts banked. That changed in March 2012.

“Our conversation started one day over a recommendation for lunch. And I suggested a place up the street,” Henderson, 49, said.

When Watts, 42, told her she was a vegetarian, Henderson pressed to know why. Watts was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease in 2003 and would eventually need a transplant. 

Watts explained that polycystic kidney disease is a autoimmune disorder that is acquired genetically. She said she’s only been able to find a distant relative who has the same disease.


“And she wasn’t fortunate as I was to find an angel on Earth,” Watts said.

According to Polycystic Kidney Disease Foundation, PKD affects an estimated 1 in 500 people in all ages and ethnic backgrounds. A kidney with PKD forms cysts increasing the size of the kidney and causing issues with its functionally. There is no cure and kidney donation is the best option.

As Watts and Henderson’s chat turned into a more in-depth conversation about Watts’ health, Henderson said in that moment she knew she wanted to get tested to donate a kidney.

“I am a very faithful person and God placed it on my heart,” Henderson said. “And before I knew it, I said ‘What’s your blood type?’ and I never looked back from there.”

But it wasn’t that easy. Watts said she was a little taken back by Henderson’s generosity. 

But in September 2012, Watts was told that it was time to get on a transplant list. 

Usually, she said, it’s a three to five-year wait for a kidney — if one becomes available that meets the correct criteria. Donors must go through a blood and tissue type matching called Human Leucocyte Antigens, according to Johns Hopkins Medical Center website. Blood type might be a match for both donor and recipient, but further testing must be done.

According to “Quiet Heroes: A Guide to Living Kidney Donation” on Johns Hopkins’ website, there are more than 60,000 people on the United Network for Organ Sharing list waiting for a kidney. Only 10,000 deceased donor kidneys become available every year. That’s why live donation is the best option.

In fact, it was October 2012 before Watts would accept even asking Henderson to be tested.

“At the time, I wasn’t ready when she had offered,” Watts said.

Watts said when her surgeons told her to get on the transplant list, she was told the average person tests 12 people to find a living donor and to not be discouraged, but to ask as many people as she could.

“As it turns out, Deanna was the first one to have her blood drawn for me and was my match,” Watts said. “I totally believe God had his hand in placing us together. Because the day she offered the kidney, it was a little odd, because she was insistent I wasn’t leaving the bank without her information.”

Watts said she “is in awe of her generosity.”

“And I always call her my angel,” she said. “And she said, ‘No, I’m not. God brought me to donate.’”

Finally, when Watts was ready to accept Henderson’s donation, she came to the bank in November with the paperwork. 

 “It was a five-month journey and we were in surgery,” Watts said. “It went very, very quickly — mainly because Deanna’s drive to get the testing done.”

Henderson said the process to donate was lengthy.

“I took blood test after blood test,” she said.

She also had to do other testing and was required to talk to a surgeon, kidney doctor, a social worker and a psychologist and do additional testing. She also had to understand the risk. According to “Quiet Heroes,” the chance of death for a living donation is 0.06 percent in 10,000 donors.

Henderson admits her family at first was apprehensive about her being a donor. But she said her family went through the process with her. She said they had the full support.

On April 15, 2013, at Johns Hopkins, the ladies underwent the donation surgery.

All medical costs for Henderson were covered by Watts’ insurance company.

Henderson said the kidney removal is now performed laparoscopically with minimal incisions. She was in the hospital for four days and was off work for six weeks.  She said she has “three little holes in my stomach and I have a two-inch incision at my bikini line.”

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