A Close Call, A Closer Connection Colleagues Give of Themselves for Betsy Crais Features
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Features  |   October 01, 2004
A Close Call, A Closer Connection
Author Notes
  • Dee Naquin Shafer, an assistant managing editor of The ASHA Leader, can be reached at dshafer@asha.org.
    Dee Naquin Shafer, an assistant managing editor of The ASHA Leader, can be reached at dshafer@asha.org.×
Article Information
Healthcare Settings / Professional Issues & Training / ASHA News & Member Stories / Features
Features   |   October 01, 2004
A Close Call, A Closer Connection
The ASHA Leader, October 2004, Vol. 9, 10-11. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR4.09182004.10
The ASHA Leader, October 2004, Vol. 9, 10-11. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR4.09182004.10
The decision to go under a surgeon’s knife unbidden sounds like a difficult one, even if it is done to save someone else’s life. Choosing to donate an organ is sometimes referred to as answering “the tap on the shoulder.”
Linda Watson, an associate professor in speech-language pathology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, made that choice last spring. On March 9, she donated a kidney to her colleague Betsy Crais, a professor in speech-language pathology. Both were back at work by April 5. “It wasn’t something I considered a sacrifice in any way,” Watson said.
Crais suffered from polycystic kidney disease, or PKD, an inherited condition. Her mother lived with PKD well into her 80s, with both kidneys functioning. However, last fall Crais became ill and her doctor recommended a transplant. Her husband Mike Crais underwent testing to donate a kidney but was not a match. Another volunteer, colleague Laurie Cochenour, also did not match.
Watson contacted the kidney transplant coordinator after learning Cochenour could not be a donor. Watson already knew she was the right blood type through her colleague’s testing process.
“I can’t say there was a sort of moment of revelation. It gradually became more pressing that I should do it.” Donating her kidney probably was easier because it was her decision and because she is unrelated to Crais, she said. “No one is putting any pressure on you. Whereas if you are a family member, there could be some pressure in a subtle way-‘Why don’t you want to do it?’”
The two have worked together at UNC’s Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences (DSHS) since 1990. In fact, they met when Watson attended a class Crais taught in 1988. Watson, who has a doctorate in education, had returned to school in pursuit of a master’s degree in speech and hearing sciences. She began working at the division in the fall of 1990.
Watson became interested in language development of children with disabilities while she was an undergraduate, doing research for a couple operating an early intervention program. After earning her doctoral degree at Boston University, Watson returned to her native North Carolina and began helping children with autism and their families. “I was encountering more and more situations where it would be really helpful to have the clinical credentials to do speech and language intervention with kids.”
On her return to North Carolina, Watson had done some contract work on a research grant in speech and hearing and knew some people in DSHS. “Tom Layton (an ASHA member) encouraged me to return and get my master’s.”
The close-knit SLP and audiology community played key support roles for the two professors during their surgery and recovery. “It was pretty amazing. Betsy sent around an e-mail and had people lined up to bring food to me three times a week. We did almost no cooking the whole month-and they’re all such wonderful cooks,” Watson said. At the same time, another DSHS colleague lined up meals for Crais’ family for the month.
On top of the “meals on wheels,” help with errands, and good wishes, Watson said DSHS colleagues shouldered increased workloads. The small division consisted of only 14 faculty members, so the absence of two professors at the same time left gaps. Colleagues covered various responsibilities for both Crais and Watson, such as grant administration and a faculty search.
The surgery was scheduled for spring break to minimize classroom interruption. Watson was teaching just one seminar on autism research that met once a week. Different colleagues handled the class for the three weeks in addition to spring break that Watson was at home. Hearing about research from other perspectives was a good experience for the students, she said. Another colleague took care of the client with whom Watson was working on Mondays.
“We got so many cards-from people everywhere, before and after the surgery. People were sending us positive energy from different perspectives.” Watson noted the cards she received from people she had never met who were friends and ASHA colleagues of Crais. A friend at Watson’s church gave matching bracelets to the two women, made from stones for good kidney health and post-operative healing.
Surgery to remove a donor kidney generally lasts about four to five hours. Watson’s surgery took a little longer because it involved a laparoscopic-assisted procedure. Such technique makes healing easier and faster than the traditional “flank incision,” but is more complicated surgically.
Donating a kidney is one of the most personal decisions a person can make, and no one should feel guilty about deciding it’s not right for them, Watson noted. “Having said that, it was one of the most fulfilling experiences I’ve ever had. I’ve compared it to childbirth. There’s the sense of having participated in the miracle of life. It was just phenomenal to see Betsy for the first time after the surgery, looking good, and knowing my kidney was working for her.”
The most difficult part of the process was being unsure of what to expect. Kidney donors must be healthy to participate, which means the donors may have had minimal contact with the world of medicine. Watson did some research on the Web. She also discussed the procedure with a woman who had been a kidney donor.
Afterward, she only experienced a few days of extreme discomfort. “In a week and a half, I wasn’t taking painkillers anymore-not because I was trying to be heroic. I just didn’t need them.” An unexpected effect was the level of fatigue. Watson said she was extremely tired and grateful to take off the four weeks that doctors recommended.
“I have no sense that I’m missing a kidney. What I would recommend to people who are considering it is that there are many donors out there who would be willing to talk to you about it,” she said.
A living memory from the experience is outside her window, Watson said. “Betsy and her husband wanted to give me a present and my husband gave them a suggestion. We live on Redbud Lane but we didn’t have a redbud tree. Everyone here says you have to have one.” The tree blooms pink in the spring and yellow-green in the fall. Like Watson’s gift of life, it is flourishing.
ASHA Member In Need

The need for kidney donations is great. In 2002, more than 50,000 people were waiting for kidney transplants, according to the U.S. Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients. Recently, ASHA learned that a long-time member, Barbara Solomon, has been diagnosed with a hereditary kidney disorder. Her kidneys are failing and the best treatment is a kidney transplant.

Solomon’s family is asking that all their friends consider whether they might want to be a living donor. The potential donor should have type “O” blood and be younger than 60. More information is available from Linda Wood, transplant coordinator, Indiana University Medical Center Transplant Office (800-382-4602).

Living organ donation is now the most common source of kidneys for those in need of transplants. Kidney transplants have been completed for more than 40 years, are no longer considered experimental, and are routinely covered by medical insurance. Visit the Living Donors Web site for more details.

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October 2004
Volume 9, Issue 18