Would you save a life if you could? Mansfield, NJ resident, Michelle Arnold, didn’t hesitate when faced with that question. When her brother-in-law, Russell Wells, was searching for a life-saving, living kidney donor – Michelle immediately stepped up to help.
Michelle, originally from Philadelphia, is one of 16 children. Nearly two decades ago, Michelle’s sister and her husband, Rose and Russell Wells, welcomed Michelle and her son, Jack, into their home. Michelle was a single mother and was grateful for their kindness and support. Russell and Jack formed a close bond during that time that continues to this day, and Michelle credits Russell as being Jack’s first father figure.
Russell has faced multiple health issues in his life, including Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, a heart attack and kidney failure. Michelle said, “He has always been a strong guy who pushed himself to work. He was really close to having to go on dialysis because of his kidney failure and wasn’t able to do a lot of physical activity. He couldn’t walk steps and would get exhausted and out of breath.”
Russell and Rose didn’t want anyone in their family to feel pressure to be a living kidney donor, so they decided to send an email. Russell was going to be added to the organ transplant waitlist if he didn’t receive a kidney from a living donor, and there was no guarantee that a kidney from a matching donor would become available. Most people wait years for a kidney transplant, and in the U.S. an average of 22 people die each day while waiting for a transplant.
“I knew I wanted to get tested. I called the hospital and asked if I could get tested and start the process. I got the lab work done a few days before Christmas, 2014. When I got a call back, they told me I was a perfect match. I told him on Christmas that I was going to do the work up to be a donor. He was concerned at first because he didn’t want anything to happen to me, but then he agreed.” said Michelle. Two months later, Michelle donated one of her kidney to Russell, and the kidney transplant was successful.
This February marks the two year anniversary of Michelle’s generous gift to Russell, and they are both doing well. “When I share my story, people see the difference that donation makes. There are so many people waiting it is staggering.” said Michelle. “It’s amazing how great Russell is doing now. He decided to retire at age 61, after being with the same company for 30 years. Now he has energy to play with his grandkids. He used to come to family events and not have the energy to be active. He would sit down most of the time and would fall asleep. Now it’s different.” she said.
Michelle has another family member, Chris McKissick, who was also affected by organ donation. Chris received a liver transplant as a baby after being diagnosed with Biliary Atresia. Michelle and her family decided in 2015 to form a team to celebrate both of these life-saving transplants at Gift of Life’s Donor Dash. They named their team “A Tale of Two Transplants.” The team will participate in the Donor Dash again this year on April 2nd in Philadelphia. Most of the team’s members will walk in the Dash’s 3K, but Michelle is ready to give it her all and run the 10K. The Dash also offers a 5K run that Michelle and her sister ran last year.
The 22nd Annual Donor Dash begins at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and continues along West River Drive, a USA Track and Field certified course. On-site registration opens at 6:00 AM, followed by a 10K run (7:10 AM), a 5K run (7:20 AM) and a 3K walk (8:30 AM). The 2016 Donor Dash witnessed a record number of supporters, with 10,000 people in attendance. This year, Gift of Life is looking forward to an even greater turnout!
The Dash began with a group of only 800 people, as a result of Claire Braverman’s wish to honor her husband, Mickey, who passed away while waiting for a liver transplant. Claire wanted to turn her grief into something positive, so she organized the first-ever Donor Dash in his memory. Today, the Dash continues to honor Mickey, donors and donor families – and the more than 5,400 men, women and children in Gift of Life’s region (the eastern half of PA, southern NJ and DE) who are awaiting a life-saving organ transplant.
Visit www.donordash.org to register. To register as an organ and tissue donor, visit donors1.org. It only takes 30 seconds to register.
About Gift of Life Donor Program: Since 1974, Gift of Life has coordinated more than 42,000 organ transplants and an estimated 600,000 tissue transplants. Gift of Life’s donation rate equates to 49 organ donors-per-million-population, ranking it among the highest in the world. For more information, visit donors1.org.