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Families connect for life-saving kidney transplant

Jennifer Bailey Commercial-News

Jose Cruz’s wife, Amanda, gave Jamie Norton this kidney donor keychain with Jose’s name on it and the date of the transplant.

DANVILLE — What started as a Facebook post about a needed kidney transplant connected two families this year and saved a man’s life.

At the time, donor Jamie Norton, 49, a single mother of two daughters, knew only the wife of 43-year-old Jose Cruz Jr.

Jose’s March 10 social media post read: “For those that know me, know that I don’t normally put myself out there on here like this. In mid 2016 I was diagnosed with end stage renal disease, which has affected just about every facet of my life. Today marks three years and 90 days of being on dialysis to keep me alive. It has been hard both mentally and physically. Today I got some of the best news a person in my situation can get. I got a call from the transplant center that I enrolled at telling me that as of today I am officially on the national transplant registry. The main reason for me putting myself out there in such a way is that in a roundabout way I’m asking for help in getting it out there that if there are any potential donors ...”

His wife, Amanda, shared his post and said, “Guys, it has been a long, hard road to get Jose on the transplant list, but he finally got notified today that he was approved! His wait time is retro-active to when he started dialysis, but his blood type can wait up to eight years to find a donor, unless someone volunteers to help save his life. If you or anyone you know might be interested in donating life, let me know. And you do not have to be a matching blood type to help. Please share and help spread the word so his boys can grow up with their dad.”

Jamie said she saw the post, knowing Amanda from several years before.

“I had recently lost like 60 pounds and gotten really healthy and was running and was doing yoga and was in the best shape that I’d ever been in,” Jamie said.

“When I saw that post, I felt like God was like you need to see if you can do that,” Jamie said.

She said she then thought to herself, “excuse me, I’m a single mom. I can’t do that.”

“And it just kept eating at me,” Jamie said, adding that she kept thinking about Jose.

After a few days of thought, “I finally kind of made a deal with God. Ok, I’ll test. I’ll go see if I can even do it. But I said if one single thing blocks me, comes up, then I’m excused. Because I at least did what you told me to do.”

Jamie said the process is intense. When she called Amanda, Amanda was asking her if she was serious. Jamie said she wanted to see about it. Jamie and Jose are both B negative blood types.

Jamie called the OSF transplant team and they had someone interview her. Jamie said they record the potential donor saying that he or she understands you can’t get money or reimbursed for this.

A kidney donor can’t have high blood pressure, diabetes, major health issues, and your BMI (body mass index) needs to be under 30.

Then they did a full screening and took about 15 vials of blood, then a 24-hour urine collection on her, Jamie said.

When all of that was OK, the next step was Jamie went to Peoria for the day. They do a CT scan, an EKG, chest x-ray and more blood work.

Jamie, who works as a certified registered nurse anesthetist at OSF HealthCare Sacred Heart Medical Center in Danville, already had her other health screenings recently completed, including a mammogram and colonoscopy, and those were all fine.

The last thing they did is mix together Jose’s blood and her blood to see if there’s any type of reaction or rejection.

The OSF team called Jamie in May and said everything was a go. All her tests were wonderful, and she was a match for him. May 5, she went for the all-day evaluation. She found out she was a match for Jose on May 11.

“We kept each other updated all throughout the process,” Jamie said.

Jamie said part of what weighed on her was that Jose and Amanda have a 2-year-old, and that Jose be there as his children grow up.

In her job, Jamie also knows first hand how hard dialysis is on people, and every year they’re on it, their chances of making it to transplant drop.

Jamie said OSF also sent her educational videos about what donation means, and they want to make sure the donor has a support system in place.

She said she thought her family would be like, what are you thinking. But they said it was super cool what she was doing. Most of Jamie’s family already donates blood and does things like that.

“They were very supportive,” Jamie said, adding that working in the medical field, everybody there also was very supportive. Jamie has eight weeks of vacation with her job, and needed six weeks for recovery.

The laparoscopic nephrectomy took place on June 21 in Peoria.

“It was a laparoscopic procedure, which is what they typically do now. And they said that almost always they will take your left kidney because it has a little bit of a longer stem on it that goes behind stuff, so that they’ve got more room to attach and it’s easier to get to,” Jamie said.

She said she had a poke up high and a poke down low and they went through her belly button to grab it and pull it out. There’s no big incision like people used to have.