Entrepreneur and philanthropist Pleasant Rowland is successful on many fronts. She founded Pleasant Company (now American Girl), created a learning system that has taught two generations of children to read and has a passion for supporting the arts and historic renovation projects.
But, by 2012, after two decades of living with chronic kidney disease, Pleasant found herself in a dire situation that required immediate attention. Blood tests indicated that she was in Stage 4 kidney failure. Dr. Micah Chan, her nephrologist, told her that her kidneys were performing at about 15 percent and she needed to start dialysis or receive a kidney transplant.
Pleasant came to UW Health to consult with Dr. Dixon Kaufman, medical director of the UW Health Transplant Center, one of the world’s foremost transplant centers. She asked him, “If I was your mom, what would you recommend?” His answer was decisive. “You need a transplant,” he said, “and soon.”
After family members were tested, Pleasant learned that none were a good match, so she wrote a letter “to everyone I knew,” says Pleasant. In it she explained that she had been living with kidney disease for years and because of the progression of the disease, needed a transplant within two months. “Never did I think I would be writing a letter with a request of such gravity,” she wrote. “If this is something you cannot do for any of a multitude of reasons, please know that I will love you no less.”
She was stunned when she learned that a number of people volunteered to donate. “I don’t know who all these people are,’’ says Pleasant, “and due to how the process works, I may never know.”
Pleasant quickly penned a second letter to her friends to share her gratitude. “I write today to tell all of you who have written or called or held me in your thoughts and prayers, how humbled and deeply grateful I am. To all of you I send my love and thanks beyond words. Never ever did I think there would be such an expression of caring and concern as has poured forth in the last ten days.”
After testing was complete, two people were found to be good matches. Within weeks, Dr. Kaufman was transplanting the donated kidney. Pleasant very gratefully received her gift of life and left the hospital two days later. She could already feel her energy returning. “This was a miracle to me,’’ she says. “I was blessed to live so close to a world-renowned transplant center.”
Pleasant continued her care under the careful watch of her transplant nurse coordinators, Leah Madden and Rebecca Dillis, and the expertise of Dr. Arjang (Aji) Djamali, chief of nephrology. As she recovered, they got her through a few bumps in the road and Dr. Djamali worked to modify her immunosuppression to get the best function from her new kidney. Her care team will support her throughout her transplant journey.
Through her gratitude for her gift of life, Pleasant was inspired to give a gift to others who come to the UW Health Transplant Center seeking a second chance at life.
Her $10 million gift will support the creation of the Pleasant T. Rowland Transplant Clinic, which will be located near the main entrance of University Hospital. The new location will allow for easier access, significantly expand clinical space to reduce the need for patients to travel within University Hospital for associated services, improve technology and add features to increase patient comfort.
This gift is her way of thanking organ donors, their families and her care team at UW Health. “I’ve seen firsthand how the UW Health Transplant Center offers a second chance at life,” says Pleasant. “Life after transplant is wonderful.”
Pleasant feels especially thankful for the remarkable care team that helped her on her journey. “This is my gift to others who face the same challenges I did and to the world class transplant team at University Hospital,” says Pleasant.
To people with kidney disease who may hesitate to ask friends and family to consider being a living donor, she has this advice: “This is no time to be shy.”