By Terry Miller
We met an extraordinary woman, Susan Pilcher, age 55, at a rather remarkable event last Monday, the historic total eclipse. What was even more amazing than the eclipse was that Pilcher (who was in Library Park to witness the historic phenomenon) only a few weeks ago donated a kidney to her sister who lives in Crestline.
We had been told of this astonishing woman by the beloved Monrovian Champion Dancers John Watson and his wife Katie who just happened to be Pilcher’s dance instructors. Watson told me of a truly life-changing moment for this Monrovia resident, and how siblings can really help one another above and beyond. This story is one of great love, courage and sacrifice.
Five years ago, Mary Warrick, aged 65, was told by doctors that in the future she would need a kidney due to her then Stage 3 kidney disease. Enter Monrovian Susan Pilcher who told Mary that she was ready, willing and fully ready to be tested to become a kidney donor for her sister.
In February 2017, Mary Warrick was placed on the “eligible to receive a kidney list.” However, she was now at Stage 5 kidney disease. At the time, the expectation to receive a donor kidney was at least a decade away.
Pilcher knew her sister simply could not wait 10 years for a donor. The best possible option for a kidney donation is a living sibling. Statistics show that one in four siblings are potential kidney matches.
Upon completion of the necessary donor application, the process began and medical testing at Loma Linda University Transplantation Institute began. The medical testing for both sisters was extensive and exhausting.
It began with Mary – as the recipient – to determine if she was healthy enough to receive the donation. For her sister Susan – the donor – the Institute was apparently very accommodating to her work/life schedule.
They tested Pilcher thoroughly to ensure compatibility to her sister and the health and well-being of the donor.
The two sisters were determined to be a perfect match. “Wow, what a blessing”! Said Pilcher. “The LL Transplant Committee (an objective team of 20 medical professionals including doctors, nurses and independent advocates – one for the donor, one for the recipient) met and gave their approval to proceed. We were thrilled, and solidified our decision to proceed with the kidney transplant surgery.”
On Aug. 7, the two sisters underwent kidney donor/recipient surgery at Loma Linda University Hospital (LLUH).
World class Surgeons Phillip Yip-Wang Wai (MD, FACS), Valentina Vladimira Bonev (MD), Michael E. deVera (MD, FACS) and Valentina Vladimira Bonev (MD) at the state-of-the-art Loma Linda University Hospital, performed the collective surgeries as planned. “We are sincerely grateful to God for the invaluable expertise and help from doctors and staff at the Loma Linda Transplantation Institute and Hospital, and of course the support of family, friends and neighbors.
Loma Linda accommodated us and allowed my sister and me to recover in a shared hospital room where we watched over one another. My sister reported feeling amazing after receiving the organ donation and her health continues to improve. What a miracle”! Pilcher said.
Being a registered nurse, Mary was an advocate for herself and her sister as they began the post-operative healing process.
Both sisters are now “…recuperating in our respective homes and being cared for by husbands and families. We have received many prayers, well wishes, and visitors which we have very much appreciated.” Pilcher told Monrovia Weekly.
As John Lennon once said… “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans…”
Mary Warrick was blessed by the birth of her 11th grandchild. Susan Pilcher was laid off from her job and subsequently received a new job offer from a dear neighbor and began work before surgery.”
“There is a lot in life that cannot be controlled. You may have family members going through medical matters and may feel like there is not a lot you can do. This opportunity has forever touched the hearts of my sister and I, and our family. Looking back I would do it again in a heartbeat,” Pilcher said.
Pilcher told Monrovia Weekly that “An opportunity like this may present itself at some point in your life. And you should think of it as just that, an opportunity! Take time to consider that you may be able to give or renew life to another. The rewards of being an organ donor are indescribable.”
Warrick is the eldest of the six children in the family, and Susan Pilcher is the youngest daughter. Mary visits the doctor twice weekly where lab tests are taken and they monitor her for any concerns or medication adjustments that may be needed. This is currently her only going out in public contact. Mary’s health has been great according to her sister. “Well adult visitors are allowed to visit her on a limited basis, if they are masked and she is masked also. Mary is not allowed to have any children or pets in her home, including any of her 11 grandchildren as risk of infection is too high. Mary can walk outside with of her home with a mask on to protect her from germs. Mary is not driving yet, but once she is lifted from “house arrest due to infection concerns” she will be able to travel with her husband to the store, church, etc. She is of course hoping this will occur after one month from procedure which is coming up soon,” Pilcher said
The donor, Susan Pilcher began driving locally two weeks after surgery. “I am doing well and walking my regular routine, however am restricted from walking my two 10 lb dogs as there is a risk of hernia due to potential pulling on leashes. This week I have begun working remotely from home a few hours a day as I continue to heal. By 3 months, I should be back to my normal activities.” She says.
In addition to their short term follow ups with doctors, both are to be part of a study for two years, where they will be lab tested at three months, six months, one year, one and a half years and two year periods to ensure their well-being, and so that the LLUH can track their progress. Beyond that, Mary will be on periodic doctor follow-ups for life, as she will be on anti-rejection medication for the rest of her life. If all goes as planned, the kidney donation could give Mary 20 years that she may not otherwise have had.
If you would like to help through a living donation you may contact the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) services line at +1 (888) 894-6361.
You may also wish to register to Donate Life. You may check the UNOS website, the DMV website or go online to Donate Life California at www.donatelifecalifornia.
Pilcher said that she researched and learned about the staggering statistics of donor organ needs, and registered herself an organ donor to help save others in the event of her death.