A Selfless Act, an Enduring Bond
WESTMINSTER -- Three years ago Barry Roy was discouraged that he couldn’t find a kidney donor. Like him, several family members had polycystic kidney disease -- a genetic disorder that causes cysts to grow on the organs -- and didn’t have a kidney to spare. Doctors told Roy’s wife, Bette, she wasn’t healthy enough to be a donor. Their son wanted to get tested. People at Spaulding Memorial School in Townsend, where he previously worked, wanted to help.
Little did he know that Melinda Estelle, a co-worker of his wife, saw the family was looking for a donor and started the testing process to see if she was match. Doctors at UMass Medical Center in Worcester determined she was healthy and could give one of her kidneys, which she did in August 2015.
“She was my angel,” said Barry, who is 66. “Melinda saved me from dialysis.”
Estelle saw a Facebook post by Bette about what Barry was going through and how he was waiting for a new kidney. Before the transplant, she and Barry didn’t know each other well.
“I’ve always felt a connection to kidneys,” said Estelle, who is 56. “Of all the coincidences, this was meant to be.”
In 1985, she lost her father to kidney cancer. Estelle registered as an organ donor when she got her driver’s license, but didn’t think too much about it until later on.
She didn’t tell the Roys she was approved to be his donor until right before surgery was scheduled.
When Estelle wanted to meet with her and Barry to tell them she would be his donor, Bette said she had a feeling something was about to happen, but was scared to believe what the news would be.
Barry remembers feeling grateful.
Estelle donated her kidney because both of them had the same blood type and many of their protein markers matched up, which isn’t common if two people aren’t related. If they weren’t a match, she would have given her kidney to the donation bank and Barry would have been moved to the top of the transplant list.
What made it possible for Estelle to follow through with the kidney donation was her job. After working with Bette in Templeton, she was able to work from home and have more flexibility to have surgery and recover from it.
“As a living donor ... it’s an interesting way to go into surgery because you’re healthy and nothing is broken,” she said.
Estelle’s surgery was done laparoscopically, which is a minimally invasive operation through the abdomen. She has a half moon incision on her stomach and one that’s a few inches on her side. For Barry, the transplant left him with a small incision.
For a later surgery, doctors removed both of his kidneys, which turned out to be malignant. The cancer could have spread throughout his body and killed him.
That surgery was one of the most difficult procedures he had, Barry said.
About six months after the transplant, Barry was able to return to work as a child psychologist. He works for the Masenic School District in New Hampshire with students in Pre-K through fourth grade.
Three years later, both of them are healthy. Barry goes in for monthly checkups at UMass Medical Center.
“I think I was one of their success stories,” he said. “I’m doing great now. I’m a normal person.”
Estelle considers herself a particular and organized person. She and the Roys have laughed about whether that would rub off on Barry as a result of the transplant.
Bette said one day after the surgery, Barry started cleaning their walk-in closet.
“The kidney is working. He’s organizing the closet,” Bette recalled with a laugh.
Barry and Estelle have shared their experiences with kidney donation through the hospital and when they meet people.
Estelle volunteers with Donate for Life New England to educate people about organ and tissue donation. She said there are people beyond family who might want to help and that it’s about getting the word out.
Every year on the anniversary of the transplant, the Roys, Estelle, and her husband go out for dinner. In the beginning, Estelle’s husband was worried about her giving her kidney, but he later came around.
In addition to getting to know each other, Estelle has met members of Barry and Bette’s family, including their four grandchildren.
Bette and Estelle began to tear up when Estelle shared a story about how they thanked her for helping their grandfather when they first met.
“I feel like I’m part of the family,” Estelle said. “They’re stuck with me.”
Follow Mina on Twitter @mlcorpuz