Organ Donation Between Friends

When Barb Himes of Penfield decided to donate her kidney to her best friend in 2006, she never hesitated. “It wasn’t anything I had to think about to be honest,” Himes said.

Himes, also a supervisor in the Sleep Disorders Center at Penn Highlands DuBois, knew how important it was to her friend and neighbor, Cheryl Caliari, also of Penfield.

Caliari’s original kidneys showed signs of problems years ago. It was unknown why they were failing but she was sent immediately from a doctor’s appointment to the hospital for admission and dialysis. Her father was her first kidney donor, but unfortunately, after a few years, it, too, started to fail.

That’s when Himes stepped in. She didn’t want to see her friend of 32 years go through dialysis again three days a week and be ailing

“I gave her my kidney because she was sick and because she is my best friend,” Himes said. It was that simple.

Of course, she had no idea if she was a match when she made the offer. But tests were done, and her kidney would work.

The transplant was done at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville. Himes said the recuperation time wasn’t bad as the surgery was done laparoscopically through the belly button. This allowed for faster healing. Caliari agreed that their healing time was about the same, but she just continues to take anti-rejection medications.

“I could see the difference in her after the surgery,” Himes said. “It made me happy for her. She wasn’t sick. It makes you feel good to be able to help someone like that.”

“To me, it was the gift of life,” Caliari said. “Being best friends, of course I didn’t want her to donate…but it means the world to me. It gives you your freedom back.”

Caliari is doing great today. At her follow-up appointments, her healthcare providers cannot believe how well she is.

Himes is perfectly fine post-donation, too. “They do such as through health exam. They make sure you are emotionally willing to do this too,” Himes said.

Is Himes worried about the need for her second kidney some day? “When there is kidney failure, they usually both go bad. My risk is no different now than before.”

Does Himes have to do anything differently since she donated? She is careful when playing sports because she doesn’t want to injure her kidney.

“It hasn’t stopped me from doing anything,” Himes said. “I never gave it a second thought.”

And Himes and Caliari don’t let anything stop them. They both lead active lives with pets – dogs, horses and goats. They also go biking, hike, ride motorcycles and travel. .

“I don’t let nothing hold me back,” Caliari said. “I have new life. You can’t thank a donor enough.”

Himes also plans to be a future organ donor. She signed up when getting her drivers’ license renewed and has the organ donation notation on her license.

“Because when you are gone, you don’t need the parts and they can help others tremendously,” she said. “I saw firsthand what an organ donor can do. I know what a difference it will make,” Himes said.

“Eleven years later, Cheryl is still doing well.There are a lot of people needing a kidney (or other organs). A lot people don’t realize how long the list is and some people never get one,” Himes said.

This month, all of Penn Highlands Healthcare is promoting organ donation awareness. More information is in this week’s Penn Highlands Healthcare column.