SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WAND) - Organ transplant centers across the country were closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, but one center in Springfield kept its doors open, seeing a record number of patients.
“I cannot explain in words to someone who hasn't gone through it what a life-changing experience it is to receive a new kidney,” Dr. Maureen Bezold told WAND News.
Bezold got a call in April 2020 that changed her life.
"I was literally shaking when I got the call. I almost couldn't believe what I was hearing,” Bezold explained.
The caller was letting her know Springfield Memorial’s Kidney Transplant Program had found her a match.
"I was just really shocked that I got one, and I didn't even give the fact that it was a pandemic a second thought," Bezold said.
But not everyone was so lucky. Many transplant programs had to pause surgeries due to overwhelmed COVID-19 units. Springfield Memorial was one of the few sites still able to operate.
"So we actually saw a surge in transplants right when the pandemic started. Again, I think some of that was a result of other transplant centers taking a step back. We're now back to doing our average of 1-3 transplants a month,” Samantha Reed explained.
Reed is the administrator for Springfield Memorial’s Kidney Transplant Program.
Staff there were able to ramp up masking, social distancing and sanitizing to allow patients, like Bezold, to still received their transplant. But once vaccines were approved, they became a major tool for transplant recipients.
"Patients that receive organ transplants are put on immuno-suppression drugs to make sure their bodies don't reject that transplant. But unfortunately, that can put them at a high risk of contracting any infectious disease, including COVID-19,” Reed added.
That advice, in conjunction with her own career in public health, convinced Bezold to get her shot as soon as possible in January, followed by her second dose and, most recently, a booster.
"I knew an extra booster was never going to hurt me, and could only help me. So I definitely did get a booster because a kidney is supposed to save my life - I don't want COVID-19 to take it,” Bezold said.
Now with a new kidney and being fully vaccinated, Bezold is feeling more healthy and grateful than ever before.