PFLUGERVILLE, Texas - A Pflugerville woman recently gave her former co-worker the ultimate gift: a chance for a healthy life.
64-year-old Karen Welsh donated her kidney in what's called a "cross-match exchange" that will end up saving several lives to help Jonathan Matthews, a 37-year-old married father of six with a genetic condition that caused his kidneys to fail.
"It just really tugged on my heartstrings, that Jonathan's family was watching him suffer. And probably wondering from day to day, especially the children, what's going to happen to my daddy," Welsh said. "I just thought. You never know...what if I'm a match?"
In early 2020, Welsh secretly began going through medical screenings and tests to find out if she could be Matthews's donor.
"And, I get a phone call in mid-December of last year that says: we need to talk about your kidney transplant. It's from the transplant institute. I'm like what?" Matthews said. "And, they're like, "Oh you didn't know? You have a live donor lined up."
The institute didn't say who the live donor was. Matthews was on a list for a kidney from a deceased donor and had expected to wait at least another three to four years.
"Couple weeks later, I get a call from Karen - who usually calls me about computer questions, stuff like that. So, I look at my phone and I'm okay it's Karen calling me," Matthews said. "She goes, I don't know how to tell you this but I'm your donor. The only thing you can hear from my side was a loud what?!"
While Welsh was a match for Matthews and could have donated directly to him, they chose to participate in a four-pair cross-match exchange.
"Technically, I did not receive Karen's kidney," Matthews said. "Her kidney went to someone else that was in the four pairs and, I received another donor, I believe who was 24, I received their kidney."
"We opted to do the cross match so we could impact more lives and save more people rather it just being a direct between Jonathan and I," Welsh said. "Jonathan gets a younger kidney versus my older kidney, even though it's a very good and healthy kidney, he gets one much closer to his age."
The transplant surgeries happened on January 20 at the Texas Transplant Institute in San Antonio with a total of four people, including Matthews, getting a new kidney. Now, both he and Welsh are on the mend.
"I don't think the English language has the proper words to share the gratitude from me and from my family, my kids. You just can't put it into words," Matthews said.
Both Matthews and Welsh hope their story encourages other people to consider becoming living kidney donors. "You can live a full, long, healthy life with just one kidney," Welsh said. "I would say, don't be afraid. I'm 64 years old and if I can be a donor then why can't other people."
In addition to helping Matthews get a new kidney, Welsh has also started a GoFundMe account to raise money to cover the costs of his wife taking time off from work to care for Matthews along with outstanding medical bills.