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Eugene woman finds kidney donor through billboard ad

March 31, 2018

Roxanne Loomis is a Eugene, Ore., nurse is shown in a February 2017 file photo with one of the billboards she rented on Interstate 5 south of the Willamette Valley city in hopes of getting a kidney. (Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via AP)

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — For Eugene resident Roxanne Loomis, seven is her lucky number.

Her birthday is on the seventh day of the seventh month, July 7.

On Feb. 7, 2017, Loomis paid for a billboard advertisement that asked for a kidney.

And on Feb. 7 of this year, she got one.

“I had no idea how sick I was until I wasn’t sick anymore,” Loomis said. “I woke up immediately after the surgery and I felt fabulous. I stayed awake the whole night because of how excited I was, how great I felt. I had been sick for so long.”

Last year, Loomis rented a billboard along Interstate 5 near Lane Community College with a large photo of herself dressed in blue scrubs with the words: “Need: kidney donor for Eugene RN.”

Loomis, 65, was an emergency room nurse before her health declined. She then went to work part time. She now is considering retirement.

Thirteen years earlier, Loomis had learned that her kidneys were failing. She began monitoring her blood pressure and cut protein out of her diet to deal with kidney disease.

But by 2014, her kidneys were barely functioning. She had started feeling nauseated and tired and had to undergo dialysis — a process that mimics the function of kidneys by removing waste and excess water from the blood — three times a week. She had been on a donor waiting list for 4½ years.

Her doctor suggested she search for a live donor and told Loomis one of his former patients had found a donor by using a billboard. She began looking for a vacant billboard to place her ad.

Last year she found one, but she wasn’t able to find a donor right away. About three months after the adverstisement went up, Lamar, an outdoor advertising company, contacted Loomis with exciting news. The firm had three digital billboards in Portland and two in Salem that her ad could be displayed on — for free.

“They donated the space for a year, and I think that’s what really saved me,” she said.

One of the Portland billboards caught the eye of a labor and delivery nurse who wanted to donate a kidney.

The woman was one of 60 people who had offered to donate a kidney to Loomis, something Loomis says her doctors described as “unheard of.” But the screening of potential donors is rigorous, with people having to undergo extensive physical and mental health testing.

Among many other things, donors cannot have issues ranging from blood pressure, psoriasis and depression, to a history of alcohol or drug abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Some potential donors, including a cousin of Loomis, had failed for one reason or another.

While the Portland nurse passed most tests, there was one problem: She had O-negative blood; Loomis is O-positive.

That’s when a paired donor exchange came in.

A paired kidney exchange, also known as a “kidney swap,” occurs when a living kidney donor is incompatible with the recipient. In such cases, people can donate a kidney to someone else in need of the organ with the understanding that the originally intended recipient will get a compatible kidney from another donor.

The Portland nurse donated her kidney to a woman in Maryland on behalf of Loomis.

In exchange, Loomis got a kidney from Sean Hopkins, a 32-year-old athletic trainer from Illinois.

“I hit the jackpot. I lucked out,” Loomis said. “I got this kidney from a healthy, young person who is an athletic trainer.”

Hopkins donated his kidney on behalf of his brother-in-law, who also has kidney disease. In exchange, his brother-in-law got a kidney from a 25-year-old Wisconsin woman.

“When the hospital told me giving my kidney to (my brother-in-law) wouldn’t work out, they told me even though my kidney wouldn’t go to him, I could still donate it to another person who also had a living donor and it would get him a kidney faster than just waiting on the list or waiting for another donor,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins was told it could take six months to a year to find another donor pair for them, but “it happened a lot faster than I thought.”

He was first tested in August 2017. On Feb. 7, he went under the knife.

“It was kind of crazy how it happened,” Hopkins said.

During a follow-up medical appointment, a nurse told Hopkins that he had received a letter from Loomis, his kidney recipient. In the letter, Loomis described herself as an emergency room nurse who had put up a billboard outside of Portland. But Loomis only signed the letter with her first name, and Hopkins wanted to contact her.

“It sounded pretty out of the ordinary so I Googled her, ‘Portland billboard emergency room nurse seeks kidney,’ and I found her right away,” he said. “I found the news story when she put up the billboard, and then I knew her full name.”

With that, Hopkins was able to connect with Loomis through Facebook. They’re still in touch.

“We talk about everything,” he said. “What she went through to find a donor. What my brother-in-law went through. What I went through.”

March 21 was Hopkins’ first day back to work as a certified athletic trainer since the surgery. He said he’s still feeling a little tired, but is getting more energy each day.

“It was definitely the most painful experience in my life, but also the most rewarding,” he said. “My advice would be that if you’re healthy enough to donate, do it. You can change peoples’ lives.”

Loomis also is recovering from her transplant, which she received at Legacy Hospital in Portland.

She had to stay in Portland for the first month following the surgery, but she now is back home in Eugene.

She has weekly lab work done at the hospital, and regular appointments in Portland to check her progress. She’s taking 16 pills a day, three of which she’ll have to take for the rest of her life to make sure her body doesn’t reject her new kidney.

Now Loomis is looking forward to her future, with improved health and energy. She said she plans to walk her dog, ride her horse, enjoy her life and travel. She plans to visit France in September.

Her Eugene and three Portland billboard ads, which she credits for saving her life, are gone, making room, perhaps, for someone else who may need help.

But for at least another month, an ending to her story remains on three billboards in Salem, donated by Lamar.

The message reads, “Congrats Roxanne on your kidney transplant.”

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Information from: The Register-Guard, http://www.registerguard.com

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