Sioux Falls woman donates kidney to stranger to help family friend get one of his own

Eye on KELOLAND

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Jack Alexander of Sioux Falls has a new kidney and the energy to play with his son, Stephen. Last June, Jack was among the first in South Dakota to receive his life-saving organ under a new option called “the advanced donation program.”

In April of 2016, Jack’s only kidney failed. His family did everything they could to find a match.

“I had over 10 people try to give me a kidney. They didn’t get approved and I was starting to lose hope. You know I had been on the list for a long time,” Jack said.

Jack went on dialysis, three times a week. For about four hours, a machine would clean his blood of toxins. On the surface, dialysis might sound like a viable option, but on dialysis, Jack says he was always cold, nothing tasted good, he had no energy, and…

“One miss can be deadly, one missed dialysis treatment, so you have to stick to it,” Jack said.

In fact, it almost killed him when serious infection set in. With little hope of a new kidney in sight, Jack’s wife, Mary, grew worried. It was a casual conversation with family friend Pam Coffman that changed everything.

“I remember Mary telling my sister, she goes, ‘I always just worry about the one time I don’t get to bring Jack home from the hospital,'” Pam said.

Pam says something just clicked and she decided she would check into being a donor. Soon she met with members of Avera’s Transplant institute.

“I felt really informed. I left there thinking, ‘I don’t really have any questions,’ like, ‘Yeah, sign me up. I’ll donate my kidney,'” Pam said.

Pam was a match but there was still a complication. The kidney would be too small for Jack. That’s where the Advanced Donation Program comes in. If Pam agreed to give her kidney meant for Jack to someone else in need, Jack would be moved to the top of a waiting list. Pretty much giving him a voucher, or golden ticket if you will, for a kidney. In the end, Pam gave her kidney to a man in Virginia, and a few months later, Jack got a kidney from a man on the east coast.

“Oh, there were a lot of happy tears. It was life-changing; it was life-changing,” Jack’s wife, Mary, said.

“To give your kidney to a stranger so that I get one from a stranger to me is just the ultimate gift,” said Jack.

Pam says she lives a normal life with one kidney and she encourages people to check into becoming a donor.

“Some people say, ‘Oh, what is it like? Now you have a scar.’ I’m like to me, that scar, I wake up in the morning and I see a little scar around my belly button, I mean, I smile. I’m like, geez I have this little scar, but it’s just a symbol of a life that I gave,” Pam said.

“She’s my hero, I consider her my hero and when people ask who my donor is, I’ll still say it’s Pam and explain everything. Just forever grateful,” Jack said.

Pam says even deep into the process, there was never any pressure for her to go through with the donation process. She says she felt she could back away anytime.

The advanced donation program has been operating in Sioux Falls since 2017. If you are curious about possibly becoming a donor, you can call 1-866-686-1062.

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