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September 21, 2022

Employee Donates Kidney to Co-worker

John Anderson’s health problems started four years ago.

Anderson, an AEP Security project manager, had a series of traumatic events (car wreck, death of a dog) that brought him to the emergency room with stress induced cardio myopathy. Eventually he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and spent countless days in and out of hospitals. Each time, multiple liters of fluid were dumped out of his lungs.Because the heart likes it dry and the kidneys like it wet, his declining health caused a vicious cycle that put immense pressure on vital organs.

“My kidneys were on the razor’s edge,” Anderson said. “Anything could tip them over.”

When visiting his cardiologist at Riverside Hospital in Columbus, he was given a choice.

“The doctor said it’s either your heart or your kidneys and your heart is going to win,” Anderson said. “A heart replacement is a lot harder than a kidney replacement.”

Valerie LeMaster, a coworker of John’s, was concerned.

“All of a sudden these meetings with him would be canceled at the last minute,” LeMaster said. “I would hear he was in the ER and then he would be out of the office for a bit. I was hoping he was OK, but obviously he wasn’t.”

She contacted him and they met outside of work. But it had to work around John’s new schedule. He had kidney dialysis 12 hours a week, on top of working full-time.

“He was going through all of this, but he still had a smile on his face,” LeMaster said.

During their meet-up, John said he needed a kidney transplant and no one in his family could help because they weren’t a match. After the meeting, Valerie went home and talked to her husband. She didn’t want to sit back and do nothing.  

“Knowing that I am healthy individual with no fear of giving blood or surgery, I wanted to try and go get tested to see if I was a match.” LeMaster said.

A military veteran, John was working with DOVE, a nonprofit group that has a goal to find, educate, and screen prospective living donors and then matches those donors to veterans awaiting transplants.Valerie visited DOVE’s website, filled out some forms and spent weeks researching. She talked to people that had donated a kidney, including a woman in her mid-thirties that had two young kids, just like Valerie. She went to Ohio State University Hospital for testing, which showed she was a potential match.

Valerie made it a point to not tell John anything until she knew she could help.On Veterans Day 2021, she was ready to tell him the news.

“I was speechless, I didn’t expect it at all,” Anderson said. “I was so overwhelmed with gratitude and appreciation. Such a gift to save my life. I never felt worthy.”

After a few months of stops and starts, which included other potential donors not meeting criteria, Valerie‘s kidney was selected.On Friday, August 5, 2022, Valerie and John were across the hall from each other in the hospital for the procedure. 

“We joked they were going to wheel the kidney across the hall in a mop bucket,” Valerie said.

After a couple hours, Valerie’s kidney was removed. After a few more hours, John successfully received it.

“The doctors said when they put Valerie’s kidney in me on the operating table, it started working right away,” Anderson said. “That’s how strong it was.”

A few days in the hospital and weeks of recuperating, John and Valerie are back at work. Because of his new kidney, John is no longer on medication and his blood pressure has decreased. John and Valerie recieved an outpouring of support from their AEP family. 

"It truly made all the difference," he said "We truly care about each other."

John and Valerie now share a bond not many people have. Because of her, John has a new lease on life and is forever grateful.

“It’s a like a new beginning for me. She gave me a second chance of life,” he said. “There is nothing like it in the world.”

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