Rosemary Manion is known at the Heart Center at University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital, where she has worked as a registered nurse for many years, as someone who would do anything for someone she cared about. June of 2018, she took that a step further when she donated a kidney to her co-worker and friend, Saaid Nur.

There are 115,000 people waiting for an organ transplant. Every 10 minutes, another person is added to the national transplant waiting list. Last year, it was Saaid’s name that was added to that list when his kidneys were failing. As someone who works closely with transplant patients, Saaid knew first hand just how long that wait could be.

Often, people who go into the kidney failure are put on dialysis. The average life expectancy for a person on dialysis is five to ten years. A transplant increases chance of survival by two-thirds. Rosemary thought about Saaid being on that list every day, hoping he would find a donor, until one day she suddenly thought: “I could do this.”

A gift of a lifetime

“I was moved,” said Saaid, remembering the moment Rosemary came to him and told him she wanted to be his donor. “We are a small, close, good department, but this…it was surreal.”

From the moment the thought entered Rosemary’s mind, there was no stopping her- she was determined to help her friend -even when it turned out the two were not a match. But Rosemary knew there was another solution- paired exchange.

The University of Minnesota Health paired exchange program (PEP!) helps transplant candidates with living donors who may not be a match and connects them with someone who is, in a sort of “kidney swap”.

“Rosemary could not have given a kidney and got the results she wanted- directly impacting her friend and colleague- without the program,” said Saaid’s surgeon, Timothy Pruett, Executive Medical Director of Transplant Care and Head of the Division of Transplantation, University of Minnesota Medical School and University of Minnesota Health.

The gift that keeps giving

The particular swap, or chain, that Rosemary and Saaid ended up being a part of, actually got started by a non-directed living donor- someone who gives a kidney to someone on the waiting list that he or she doesn’t know.

In 1999, The University of Minnesota became the first institution in the country to perform a kidney transplant from a non-directed living donor and continues to be the leader in this area, having had more people donate through this program than any other in the U.S.

“This program certainly brings in more donors into the system. These are people who are consciously donating to someone they do not know, with the promise someone they do will receive the same,” said Pruett.

On June 12th Saaid went into surgery at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, followed one day later, by Rosemary.

Part of a team, part of a family

“They both called me at the same time,” remembers Katy Soule, Physician Assistant with University of Minnesota Health, the manager of the Cardiac Catheterization Lab. “I remember being very nervous, because they are two of my four nurses in the Cath Lab.”

But the minute Katy learned what the two had planned she told them not to worry- the team would figure it all out. And that’s exactly what they did.

“We are a family here,” said Melissa Fetterley, RN, University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital. 

In the Cardiac Cath Lab, the team of seven, including the 4 nurses, work on kids of all ages and their hearts.

“When a child is brought into the Cath Lab, we can actually prevent them from needing to go through an operation. We also monitor children who have had a transplant, for rejection,” said Katy.

A happy homecoming

Although they were technically “down a team member,” that’s not why Rosemary’s return was so anticipated by her team. July 30th could not come soon enough for the group, who are now just waiting for Saaid to return.

Saaid said he cannot wait for those two weeks to be over. So much so that on Rosemary’s first day back Saaid paid a surprise visit to his team, people he refers to as family.