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As far as Irina Shpigelman is concerned, her kidneys have always been community property in her marriage.
Her husband, Mike, was born with only one kidney, and about 10 years ago, that kidney’s function decreased to 13 percent. She told him that between the two of them, they had three kidneys, so they would be OK if he ever needed a transplant. Sure enough, the Madison couple saw another doctor who told them Mike would be on dialysis in a year if he didn’t receive a kidney transplant.
So, they began planning. The pair knew they had different blood types, but they also knew University Hospital in Madison offered a kidney exchange program. This program allows any healthy person over age 18 to donate a kidney in exchange for someone to receive a kidney from another living donor. Recently, the hospital began offering an advanced donation option in which the living donor can donate a kidney before his or her intended recipient needs a transplant, so that their intended recipient will receive a kidney when they’re ready for transplant. That was a perfect option for Irina and Mike, who have three young children and couldn’t afford for both to be out of commission for weeks. “That’s a huge blessing,” says Irina, “because we’re trying to keep life somewhat normal for our children.”
Irina underwent her surgery on April 11, 2018. Shortly before donating her kidney, she happened to meet another living kidney donor through her church who had surgery just weeks before Irina. That woman became Irina’s confidante and supporter as Irina was undergoing her own recovery. Irina doesn’t know much about her recipient, but she has learned that it was a person who had difficulty finding a good match, so she’s grateful for the opportunity to help.
Mike hasn’t yet undergone his transplant — for the time being his kidney is still working, and he and Irina want to gain as much mileage as possible out of that kidney before replacing it.
“I’m back to my normal life, so now I’m just concerned about Mike and his health,” says Irina. “We’re both very glad we were able to separate the two surgeries, so I can concentrate on him when his time for transplant comes.”