Fayette County

A man in need inspires WLEX reporter to donate kidney to stranger

WLEX-TV reporter Leigh Searcy donated a kidney in August to a woman she did not know. Searcy kept quiet about it for nearly two months but decided to come forward in an attempt to encourage more people to become living donors.
WLEX-TV reporter Leigh Searcy donated a kidney in August to a woman she did not know. Searcy kept quiet about it for nearly two months but decided to come forward in an attempt to encourage more people to become living donors. Herald-Leader

Leigh Searcy decided this year to donate a kidney to anyone who needed it, even if it was a stranger.

Searcy does not know who the recipient was, but it was a woman "whom I'm told is doing very well and I'm happy for her."

Searcy, a WLEX-TV news reporter, told University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital officials that she would like to meet the recipient if the woman is willing. The meeting would be "wonderful;" however, Searcy said she understands if it never takes place.

"If I don't, I just hope my kidney is doing its job for her ... I just really hope it continues to work for her,'' Searcy said.

It is fair to say that Searcy never really thought of donating a kidney.

She had heard stories of people donating a kidney and she had covered stories of someone needing a transplant.

"But it never hit me as something I would do," she said.

That changed one day last year when she was reporting a story about a family that was reminiscent to hers. She met a couple who had two young children as she and her husband do.

The man was on a kidney dialysis schedule that regulated everything from going to the grocery to taking the kids to the park. He was on a strict diet. And he needed a kidney transplant.

"It's hard to explain," said Searcy. "But I left that home thinking, 'I'm going to get tested to see if I'm a match for him.'"

Searcy was not a match for that man, but she decided to continue with the testing to see whether she would be a match for someone else.

"I considered the risks," she recalled. "My father pointed out more than once the fact I have two young kids; what if something happened?"

Stephen Strup, the James F. Glenn Professor and chief of urology in the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, said it's unusual for someone to donate their kidney without having some knowledge of the recipient.

An estimated 365 people are waiting to have a kidney transplant at the University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital, said Lynne Polly, a living donor coordinator. There were about 20 living donors this year and 70 deceased donors. Of the living donors in 2013, only Searcy and one other donor did not know the recipient.

Said Searcy: "I was healthy, had healthy children and most importantly, had no family history of kidney problems. Why not help someone if I can? It was a very matter-of-fact decision for me."

Strup said he found Searcy to be "motivated and pleasant."

Donors need to be comfortable "with the decision to do it. And she was all along," said Polly.

"I don't think she had doubts about it ever," Polly said. "She wasn't ever hesitant. She was just practical about it, straightforward. She never said, 'What if, what if, what if.'"

She went into it "eyes wide open and really thought about it and felt like it was something she was called to do," said Strup.

A month before the surgery, when it was time to have a discussion with her 5-year-old daughter Olivia and 6-year-old son Reece, Searcy said she simplified her role as a kidney donor:

"It's like having two cookies and sharing one with someone who doesn't have one," she told them.

Searcy's husband, Heath Dotson, said he decided that it was his wife's decision. "From the beginning, I didn't try to talk her out of it," said Dotson, a Versailles Police Department officer. "I was very proud of her."

Searcy's surgery was Aug. 29. She spent three days in the hospital following the laparoscopic surgery, a procedure that can take up to four hours. The recipient was at the same hospital and received the kidney almost immediately.

Searcy spent another six weeks recuperating at home and said she has fielded many questions, including whether she goes to the bathroom in the same way. The answer is yes.

Strup, the physician, said: "Life with one kidney is really no different than life with two."

Searcy said she never doubted that. She said she is not aware of the missing kidney. The surgery has not affected her lifestyle. Her scar is tiny — the size of an inch-and-a-half pencil mark — on her stomach.

More than a month later, Searcy said she is running again, eating her regular meals and busy with life.

"My life is back to the hectic way it was before surgery, running kids to soccer and school, cleaning up after the dogs," she said.

Searcy, who returned to work on Oct.14, kept her decision quiet for nearly two months. She agreed to share her story with the Herald-Leader because she wants other people to consider becoming a living donor.

Meanwhile, there is good news for the kidney transplant patient who inspired Searcy months ago.

After Searcy's story aired about the man needing a transplant, a viewer stepped forward and asked the UK kidney transplant staff if she could donate a kidney to him, said Searcy.

That woman was a match.

"The more people realize how far transplants have come," Searcy said, "the more people will be open to getting tested."

Want to help?

Contact Lynne Polly, Living Donor Coordinator for the University of Kentucky Transplant Center, if you are interested in becoming a donor. Polly can be reached at (859) 323-5737 or lynne.polly@uky.edu.

For more information about being a living donor, visit UKhealthcare.uky.edu/trans/