2015 Transplant and Organ Donation Calendar: Brenda Violante

Karen Miller, UW Health senior transplant coordinator

Being a part of a paired kidney exchange connected sisters in Wisconsin and Arizona and also helped five other people across the country receive new kidneys.


Wisconsin's Brenda Violante was in kidney failure and had been on dialysis for three hours a day, three days each week, for four years. She felt she was missing much of her young daughter's life.


Because it was difficult to find a matching kidney for Brenda, her sister Ivette volunteered to donate a kidney to another person in exchange for a kidney for Brenda.


"Through this incredible act of generosity, Ivette started a chain that allowed six individuals at six transplant centers to receive a kidney - including her sister," says Karen Miller, senior transplant coordinator. "Though Ivette's goal was simply to help her sister, this one selfless act affected so many more lives - both recipients and their loved ones."


Brenda is grateful to her sister for her gift of life and for the new beginning it has given her family.


"I feel like I've been reborn," says Brenda. "And it's a new life for my daughter Kristie now too. She went with me to all my dialysis appointments when she was little. Now instead, I'm able to drive the car pool and go places with her."


Like most recipients, Brenda was concerned about receiving such a gift from her sister, who was also a mother of two young children.


"For me," says Brenda, "the hardest part was putting my sister through surgery. I asked her 'What if it doesn't work?' "

Ivette (left) and Brenda (right)


For Ivette, it was just the right thing to do.


"If I could give my sister a better life, even for a week or month without dialysis, I wanted to do it," says Ivette. Brenda was comforted knowing that the program's coordinators and social workers carefully evaluate and work closely with the living donors so they fully understand their decision.


Although Ivette doesn't view herself as a hero, her sister and others certainly do.


"Our donors are tremendous," says Karen. "We see them as heroes, though they don't often see themselves that way. They are just doing what needs to be done to help a loved one."


Ivette and her family came from Arizona to UW Hospital and Clinics, where both surgeries were performed. Their mother also joined them to support and care for her girls. Brenda encourages others awaiting transplant to join a paired kidney exchange.


"If it wasn't for my sister, I would still be waiting," says Brenda. "Just go for it, and don't lose hope."