By HILARY DECENT NAPERVILLE SUN | JUL 17, 2020 AT 2:25 PM
Two nurses will be forever linked following an operation scheduled to take place July 24. Louise Porter, a Naperville mom, has often gone the extra mile for her patients, but her decision to give a man she barely knows one of her kidneys is one of those extraordinary acts of kindness few ever consider. The living donation will give a new lease on life to Linh Nguyen, a 48-year-old father of three from Lincolnwood who has been on dialysis for four years.
“Louise is like an angel. It means a lot to me,” he said.
Nguyen and his wife, Kim, came to the U.S. 26 years ago. He spent years working in nursing homes until illness forced him to give up his job. Kim works as a medical coder. The couple made a success of their lives here, but Nguyen hasn’t been able to escape the scars of a tragic childhood.
“My father had a hard life. After the (Vietnam) war he was a political prisoner,” he said. “I had a hard time growing up. I never had any medical checkups and the stress gave me hypertension. It became so bad that four years ago I had to start dialysis.” Despite having to spend three and a half hours in treatment three times a week, Nguyen carried on working as long as he could.
“After dialysis I am really tired, but I loved my job so I tried my best,” he said. “I worked more than 60 hours a week. I didn’t take care of myself because I was focused on my patients.”
Eventually things caught up with him and in March 2019 he underwent open heart surgery, the high blood pressure having damaged his aorta. He hasn’t worked since.
Nguyen has been waiting for a new kidney for four years. “The list before me was very long,” he said. “Four to five hundred people.”
Several possible matches were found, but none turned out to be suitable.
“I would love to have donated my kidney,” Kim said, “but I have high blood pressure myself because Linh is sick. I was very healthy before; I didn’t have anything wrong but now everything is upside down.”
Desperate to help, her sister Cammy Phan put out a call on Facebook last Christmas. Alongside the prayers and well wishes, one person decided to take action. Louise Porter. “It was so sad. I just kept thinking about it,” the 56-year-old mother of one said. She started the application. “I thought, let’s just see what happens,” she said.
Porter wasn’t sure her blood would be a match, but it turned out she is type A like Nguyen. She passed each test with flying colors.
“It seemed like there were pages and pages to submit to the transplant team for review at Northwestern (Memorial Hospital) in Chicago,” she said. “It felt like forever from the first time I spoke to Cammy about it but in just a few short weeks, we were scheduling the surgery for June 19.”
The elation for Nguyen and his family was short-lived when the coronavirus pandemic put a halt on the surgery, which is considered elective. It’s now scheduled for the end of this coming week.
Porter has been extra cautious because she didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize the procedure.
“Through the whole thing I’ve been trying to stay home. I don’t want to catch coronavirus because it would be a deal breaker for the surgery,” she said.
Porter is being supported by her friend Rajka Galbraith, a Naperville functional medicine doctor.
“I thought, Wow, this is the greatest act of selflessness and I wanted to support her,” she said. “She’s a very giving person.”
The kidney removal will be done through three small incisions and should take two to three hours. It will be put into Linh’s body immediately. If all goes well, Porter will be released from the hospital the next day and Linh three to four days later.
“I’m doing everything in my power to make sure it’s compatible. I’ve always tried to be pretty healthy and I drink a gallon of water a day,” she said. “I just know it’s going to work; we’ve been through so much. It will give him a whole new lease on life. Dialysis is so hard on a person the longer it goes on. It’s so discouraging.”
A couple of weeks ago the two attended a pre-op meeting with their surgeon.
“We sat there with the biggest smiles behind our masks,” Porter said. “My friends and family are very proud of me, and a little nervous, but I am just excited.”
Porter isn’t concerned she’ll have to live for the rest of her life with one kidney and urges others to consider being living donors.
“I think the main thing is I’m not in the hospital long and it’s not a big recovery. I don’t think it will be too bad,” she said.
“As a donor I don’t have to change anything I am eating or doing, and the operation is only three small incisions. Plus, if anything did ever happen to my remaining kidney, I would jump straight to the top of the donor list with only children ahead of me.”
Nguyen and Porter will be on the same hospital floor as they recover.
“We’ll be at different ends but as walking is encouraged as soon as possible, we should be able to see each other,” she said. “The world is so ugly right now; this is one thing I can do for somebody that is good. I’m not scared, I’m so excited.”
Kim Nguyen cannot wait for her husband’s health to be restored.
“We are very, very excited,” she said. “Louise is like an angel who has come to save my husband’s life.”
Linh Nguyen would like other people to follow in Porter’s footsteps.
“If they could please donate it can save a life,” he said. “Kidney failure is horrible. I would encourage anyone to do what Louise has done. It’s incredible.”
For more information on living donations, go to the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois website at www.nkfi.org.
Hilary Decent is a freelance journalist who moved from England to Naperville in 2007. firstname.lastname@example.org