Kidney donation

'She’s done a wonderful thing for me’

Doctors, friends and strangers alike always do a double-take when Julie Kochevar tells them she is donating a kidney to her ex-mother-in-law.

“Your ex-mother-in-law?” Kochevar says people exclaim. “I get that from everybody.

Everybody’s just shocked. I don’t think I’ve ever told anybody who hasn’t had that reaction.”

Kochevar, 44, is happy to give one of her kidneys to her former husband’s mother, Wanda Elsberry, 66. The two have always been close, even after Kochevar and Elsberry’s son divorced. Though she’s not a blood relative, Kochevar’s blood type, body tissue and two healthy kidneys make her a perfect match for Elsberry as a donor.

Elsberry, whose kidney disease was prompted by diabetes and high blood pressure, has lost much of the use of her kidneys. Without a replacement kidney, she soon would have to start dialysis treatments, a process of using a machine to regularly recirculate cleansed blood through her body.

Elsberry would have to undergo dialysis treatments three times a week for about three hours per session, seriously curtailing her active lifestyle. She already has lost much of her mobility and is tired because of the onset of anemia.

The waiting list for a kidney donation is about four to five years in Colorado, Elsberry said.

Although it’s common among family members to donate a kidney for another in need, donating from outside of the family unit is unusual. After a couple of family members stepped up to offer a kidney, problems existed with each potential donor, which didn’t make a match possible.

That’s when Kochevar stepped in and asked Elsberry for contact information on her doctors to possibly donate a kidney. Elsberry cried the day Kochevar called with news that one of her kidneys would make a perfect match and she was willing to donate it.

“She’s done a wonderful thing for me,” Elsberry said, sitting on her living room couch recently next to Kochevar. “This gives me an opportunity to be healthy again. How do you tell someone thank you for that?”

According to the National Kidney Foundation, 3,916 Americans died in 2006 while waiting for a kidney transplant. Acceptable organ and tissue donors can be anyone from a newborn to age 65. In 2007, about 6,000 of the more than 16,500 kidneys donated were from living donors, the Foundation said.

Kidneys filter almost 200 quarts of blood and make about two quarts of urine each day. But when kidneys don’t work, products such as urea nitrogen and creatinine stay in the blood and poison the body. Healthy people can live with one kidney as easily as two. The removal of one kidney often results in the other working harder and becoming bigger to handle functions.

Kochevar did her research while considering whether to donate a kidney. One of her kidney functions at 100 percent and the other at 99.9 percent. After doctors determined she would make a great match for Elsberry and Kochevar passed a psychological exam, her mind was made up.

“That pay-it-forward thing is really important to me,” she said. “I won’t miss it at all. One fully functioning kidney is as good at two.”

A surgery date is set for late October. Thankfully, Elsberry’s insurance has paid for all the costs of the testing to ensure Kochevar’s kidney is a good match, and it will pay for the costs of the operation and her hospital stay. Kochevar accessed a donor assistance fund that will pay for all other expenses, including fuel money for travel to Denver, a hotel room, meals and reimbursement for time lost from work. Without that help, Kochevar said, she probably wouldn’t be able to afford the out-of-pocket expenses to donate a kidney. People who receive a donated kidney can pay for expenses related to the donor’s surgery, but it is illegal to pay for a kidney.

“I think it’s a misconception that you have to be a relative to donate a kidney. You really don’t,” Kochevar said. “We want to let people know that you don’t have to be a family member to help someone.”

For more information about kidney disease and kidney donations, go to the National Kidney Foundation site at


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