Amanda Ouellette of Mechanic Falls, co-owner of Daddy O’s restaurant in Oxford, offered one of her kidneys to longtime customer Jane Brown of Otisfield. Both underwent surgery Dec. 2, with Ouellette’s kidney going to a recipient in Colorado and Brown receiving one from a donor there through an exchange program at Maine Medical Center in Portland. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

MECHANIC FALLS — Jane Brown’s kidneys were failing. Due to an autoimmune disease, the doctors said her kidneys were working at 12% efficiency and would not improve. Unless she received a transplant, she was looking at dialysis or worse.

She said her angel then appeared — Amanda Ouellette, co-owner of Daddy O’s restaurant in Oxford. Ouellette offered Brown, a loyal customer, one of her kidneys.

Unfortunately they were not medically compatible. Brown has Type O blood, while Ouellette is Type A.

No problem.

Through a kidney exchange program utilized by the Maine Transplant Program at Maine Medical Center in Portland, a kidney donation swap was arranged. Ouellete’s kidney was transplanted into a person in Colorado, while another kidney from Colorado was sent to Maine for Brown.

Ouellette, 42, of Mechanic Falls, said she was not disappointed that her kidney was not a match for Brown.

“It was actually kind of cool because I know in addition to helping her, somebody else got a kidney who needed one. It made it more special,” Ouellette said.

The surgeries were performed Dec. 2 and both women say they are doing well.

Jane Brown of Otisfield received the kidney that she needed after her friend donated one, allowing Brown to move up on the list of those who need a kidney. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“The new kidney started working right away,” Brown said. “It’s absolutely amazing.”

Maine Transplant Center

While transplants have been around for decades, matching pairs of living donors with recipients is a relatively new procedure.

One of the first living organ transplants occurred between identical twins in the mid-1950s. They slowly expanded to involve related family members and then spouses and friends if they were compatible.

“In the U.S., it is always a balance between donor and recipient,” Dr. Juan Palma, director of Living Kidney Donation for the Maine Transplant Center at Maine Medical Center. “We now have a database that finds whatever kidneys are available. We’ve had long experience with deceased donors, but for living donors, we just never had a robust nationwide way to share kidneys. It had been proposed for a couple of decades, but it took 10 years to get off the ground.”

Maine performed its first living kidney transplant between noncompatible pairs in 2013, Palma said. This past year, out of 30 kidney transplants performed at the center, four were between noncompatible pairs, exchanging kidneys with other centers across the country. He expects the center to perform another such transplant next month.

He said roughly 30% of transplant pairs, like Brown and Ouellette, are not compatible due to blood or tissue type.  The evaluation process to become a living donor takes about four-to-six weeks, Palma said.

The center belongs to two national exchange programs — a federal program run by the United Network for Organ Sharing and a private nonprofit called the National Kidney Registry. Their missions are to assist and connect donor and recipient pairs with others across the country, using innovative software to find appropriate matches.

“We’ve been part of the program from the inception, but I can tell you in the last three years, the growth has been exponential,” Palma said. “It’s pretty cool what is happening now.”

“The process is very seamless now, but it took nearly a decade for us to get to this point,” he added.

A  kidney for Brown

Brown, 69, who retired to Otisfield with her husband, Otis, several years ago after a career in human resources for a large company in Massachusetts, began having problems with her kidneys a few years ago. It took roughly 18 months before her doctors figured out that an autoimmune disease was attacking her kidneys.

“By then, my kidneys were damaged beyond repair,” Brown said.

She said she avoided dialysis because of her health, but without a transplant, dialysis was the likely solution for her failing kidneys as she got older.

“They knew it wasn’t going to improve sufficiently,” Brown said. “They told me what my options were. Dialysis was something we had to look at in case we had to go that route.”

Brown had known Ouellette for roughly 12 years as a regular customer at her Oxford restaurant. They had discussed Brown’s health issues and her need for a kidney.

After some thought, Ouellette knew what she had to do.

“After some time, I told her that if she needed a kidney, I happened to have a spare,” Ouellette said.

“Honestly, it wasn’t a very difficult decision,” she added. “It just seemed like the right thing to do. I didn’t even think twice about it.”

“It was very obvious that she had given it a lot of thought,” Brown said. “It wasn’t something just off the cuff. She had thought about it. She knew what she wanted to do. She’s such an amazing woman.”

Both described the process as easier than expected. Doctors gave Ouellette a battery of tests and a compLete physical to make sure she and her kidneys were healthy. If doctors detected any health risk, she could not be a living kidney donor.

Since Ouellette and Brown were not a medical match, they entered the Kidney Paired Donation Program. Because she was paired with a potential living donor, Brown’s wait for a kidney was shorter than if she did not have a partner.

“In some cases, it takes years,” Brown said. “So that was a big stress relief for me. I was able to focus on trying to maintain my health so I could be ready when the kidney became available.”

Due to the pandemic and other issues, surgery was delayed for months until a suitable match was made a few weeks ago. They both had surgery Dec. 2 at the Portland medical center. Ouellette had her kidney removed in the morning and it was shipped to Colorado that same day. Brown received her kidney late Wednesday night. The four-hour procedure concluded at 2:30 a.m.

“They told me my kidney was flying in from Colorado to New York and then on a small plane to Portland,” Brown said. “I’m not sure where it originated from. I don’t know those details at this point,”

Since the surgeries, both patients are relaxing comfortably at home. Brown said she feels younger and has had no difficulties with her new medications.

Ouellette said she feels no different with one kidney instead of two.

“They said some people go their whole lives with one kidney and don’t know it,” Ouellette said. “Going into this, they give you a complete physical and then some. If there’s any sort of risk factor, they won’t accept you. I know it’s not for everyone, but I think it’s really a great opportunity to help out.”

For anyone else in her situation of needing a kidney, Brown suggests that they listen to their doctors and educate themselves. More knowledge on their condition will help to reduce stress, she said.

People should make sure the resources are credible and reliable, she said. There is no quick fix or cure.

“I’m very lucky to be able to do this because something else could have gotten in the way that would have precluded me from being eligible to receive this gift,” Brown said. “What an incredible gift this is. I am forever grateful.”


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