Woman donates kidney, sisters raise funds to help
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When it comes to the motto of "all for one, one for all," Alexandre Dumas' "The Three Musketeers" have nothing on the three sisters of Geri Whalen.
In 2007, following the birth of her third child, the Peters woman learned she had developed kidney disease, and required a double transplant of a kidney and of the pancreas.
When it reached the point that Ms. Whalen's life was in danger, her sister Dana Christner, 40, donated a kidney to save her. "I didn't really give her a choice. She was going to get it whether she wanted it or not," the Salisbury, N.C., woman said. The surgery took place Jan. 16.
Once she has fully recovered from the kidney transplant, Mrs. Whalen, 33, who has battled diabetes since age 9, will be added to the transplant waiting list in hopes of finding a donor match for a pancreas.
To help with the lifelong costs associated with transplantation, Mrs. Whalen's sister, Jennifer LaBella of Gibsonia, staged a fundraiser in Bloomfield.
And at 6 p.m. Saturday, a fundraiser organized by another sister, Sondra Hathaway of Peters, will be held at Fired Up Pottery Studio, a contemporary ceramics studio, and Swirlie Whirlie frozen yogurt.
The two McMurray businesses, adjacent to one another at 4149-4151 Washington Road, will donate a portion of the evening's proceeds to the National Foundation for Transplants in honor of Mrs. Whalen.
"I have been deeply touched by the whole transplant experience, and the love and support we received from the community and from strangers," Mrs. Hathaway said.
The nonprofit foundation, based in Memphis, Tenn., helps transplant patients raise money to pay for medical expenses. In the past 29 years, the foundation's fundraising campaigns have generated nearly $60 million to assist patients.
The average kidney transplant costs about $250,000, and a pancreas transplant costs more than $285,000. While her insurance covered these costs, Mrs. Whalen faces expenses related to follow-up care and daily anti-rejection medications.
"I don't know how people do it without help. I have been completely overwhelmed by all of the support, and people writing notes stating they are praying for me and my family," Mrs. Whalen said.
She and her husband, Adam, are the parents of three children ages 5, 8, and 9.
According to the foundation, there are 117,267 Americans awaiting a transplant. Of those, 8,343 patients are in Pennsylvania. In that group, 6,520, need a kidney transplant and 150 need a pancreas.
Mrs. Whalen called Mrs. Christner her hero.
"Before I got the transplant I was barely able to make it up the steps. Today I feel fantastic," she said. "I never had to ask my sister's help. When she found out, she said 'Let me know when. I'll be ready.' "
Mrs. Christner is also doing well. She returned to work two weeks after the surgery, and to horseback riding six weeks later. She is comforted in the knowledge that live donor kidneys function, on average, more than twice as long as kidneys from deceased donors.
Organs from a perfectly matched sibling donor can function even longer.
"The choice for me was to lose my sister or do this. It was a selfish act on my part to keep my sister," she said.
For more information, contact Mrs. Hathaway at 412-478-7457, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Seating at Fired Up is limited; contact Mrs. Hathaway to ensure a spot to make pottery.
To make a donation in Mrs. Whalen's honor, visit www.transplants.org and select Find an NFT Patient.
You may also send a donation to the NFT Pennsylvania Transplant Fund, 5350 Poplar Ave., Suite 430, Memphis, TN 38119. Write "in honor of Geri Whalen" in the subject line.
First Published March 14, 2013 12:00 am