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Elementary health fair inspired by teacher’s living kidney donation

April 10, 2019

Lauren Lowndes always knew she wanted to be a teacher, even after coming back to it after a detour in the culinary arts.

Now, she can teach her current and former students more than a typical kindergarten lesson. On Friday, March 29, she continued to spread a message of life, hope and healing.

A health fair at Belvedere Elementary School featured Lauren and other booths to speak with family and students about healthy living and organ, tissue and eye donation.

Lauren’s recent living kidney donation to her sister inspired the event.

Lauren’s sister received a lupus diagnosis in high school. It’s an autoimmune disease that causes the body’s immune system to attack healthy tissues. It can affect the kidneys, heart and lungs.

The initial diagnosis took doctors a long time to understand. Then, Lauren said, the diagnosis switched to pulmonary hypertension from years of medication.

“She needed this sooner rather than later”

In May 2018, Lisa’s kidney function was low. She received dialysis three times a week while trying to keep up with her job.

So, Lauren took it upon herself to begin the process for living kidney donation through Nebraska Medicine. She filled out paperwork and started the initial medical tests hoping she would be a match for her sister.

“It was a whirlwind,” Lauren said. “Within three weeks they had finished the testing and I found out I was a candidate. Her heart had deteriorated even more, so she needed this sooner rather than later by then.”

Lauren believes her living donation is something anyone would do. But her coworkers believe her choice was extraordinary rather than a simple decision.

“Lauren loves her family very much, so when I learned that she was going to be a living donor for her sister, I was not surprised,” said one of Lauren’s coworkers, Patricia Frazier. “She’s been a source of emotional support for her sister as well. Her and her sister truly a bond that is greater now more than ever. It’s been remarkable to watch an unselfish act of love that gives another person a second chance at life!”

Cheri Cairncross added: “When I asked her about it, she just seemed like she didn’t even hesitate when she found out she was a match.”

For Lauren, it was a scenario that hit close to home for multiple reasons. She wanted to improve the quality of life for her sister, and her father-in-law also received a liver transplant at Nebraska Medicine three years ago.

“After seeing my father in law back at work, functioning and going out to dinner and back in action enjoying life after his transplant, it was definitely a no-brainer,” Lauren said. “When I knew my sister needed it, it hit close to home.”

Lauren then decided an optimal time for surgery and recovery after her acceptance as a candidate for her sister.

Cheri said she knew Lauren was concerned about the well-being of her students during her recuperation and didn’t want to be absent.

Lauren did have to miss three weeks for her own recovery. After a hiccup with a hernia, Lauren says she’s slowly making her way back to 100 percent.

Lisa is also recovering and has been cleared to go home after a complication with water and sodium retention that affected her heart.

The positive effects of donation

Now, Lauren has the chance to explain to her students what the organs of the body do, what happens when they don’t work, and how she was able to help her sister.

Belvedere School Nurse Leslie Gleaves looked forward to the chance to show others the positive effects of donation. She helped organize the event and wanted students to hear first-hand experience about ways they can be superheroes, too.

As a nurse, she saw these stories herself.

She recently attended a funeral for a 37-year-old woman who lived more than 20 years after a double-lung transplant at 15 years old.

“She graduated salutatorian, went to college and worked at UNMC doing mammograms and giving back to the community she grew up with,” Leslie said. “Someone’s quality of life changing for the better is what it’s all about. It also brings comfort to the families who have loves ones’ lives saved.”

Lauren looked forward to spreading that exact message at the health fair, too.

“This is definitely something I’m more than happy to take part in,” said Lauren, who plans to have her children present at the health fair with her. “I’m more than happy to chat with any family that shows up to learn more about it.”

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