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Strangers No More: How a Good Samaritan’s Kidney Saved a Mother’s Life and Created Lasting Bonds with a Six-Person Transplant Chain

Advance With MUSC Health
July 23, 2021
Laura Beasley and Francisco "Frank" Ramirez together.
Laura and Frank

Summerville resident Laura Beasley was out fishing one day not long after discovering she had kidney complications when she received a text message from her ex-husband's current wife, Erin, with whom she'd had little to no direct contact before. A mother of four, Laura has two children from the former marriage. So the purpose of the unexpected text? Erin wanted to donate a kidney to her. "It was out of the blue," Laura says. "When I found out about my kidneys in 2017, we'd never had a conversation, so that message blew me away."

Laura's kidneys started to weaken in 2017. It began as simple as a weird feeling in her back, but she had a hunch and got it checked out. Laura, a 40-year-old disabled veteran, was referred to a nephrologist as soon as her tests returned indicating a significant loss in kidney function. But due to a lapse in insurance, she wasn't able to make that appointment just yet.

Fast forward to December of 2019. Feeling unwell again, Laura had more bloodwork done at an urgent care facility. On Christmas Eve, she was at Walmart doing some last-minute holiday shopping when she got a call from the doctor and learned that she needed to admit herself to a hospital as soon as possible: her kidneys were failing.

Living in Columbia at the time, Laura checked into a hospital there, where a kidney biopsy was performed and she was diagnosed with IgA nephropathy, also known as Berger's disease, a hereditary kidney disease. Her physician worked with both Augusta and MUSC to get her on the waiting list, promising a full-force fight with immediate effect.

Beasley was in shock. With her military history, she was athletic and felt healthy. Three years before, she'd even quit smoking.

By March of 2020, Laura had begun dialysis, a kidney failure treatment that filters the blood of unwanted toxins. Without dialysis, she could have problems keeping her blood clean and her system chemically balanced. So the fight was in full force, as was the search for a kidney donor.

That's about the time that Laura received a reminder from her ex-husband's wife that she was serious about volunteering her kidney to help the mother of her husband's children heal. Laura would subsequently receive what she describes as an "unexpected friendship and sacrifice."

Though Erin wasn't a blood match for Laura, she was still willing to donate as part of the MUSC Health Living Donor Program, which allows a living person to donate a kidney to a patient. And because MUSC had found a Good Samaritan to donate, a transplant chain could begin. A transplant chain can commence when a Good Samaritan steps forward, willing to donate to a stranger out of the kindness of his or her heart. The Good Samaritan donates to a patient they match with, and then that patient's original donor can donate to a second patient, or recipient, with whom they do match. If that second recipient also has a healthy and willing original donor, like a friend or family member who wasn't a match, then that chain can keep going.

This chain kept going. A Good Samaritan named Francisco "Frank" Ramirez stepped up to give his kidney to a stranger in need and thus the chain began. Frank's kidney went to Laura, and her original donor Erin, still willing to make the sacrifice, was able to donate to a second recipient in need. That recipient's original donor, the third donor, was still willing to give, too, and so a third recipient got a new kidney. The chain ended with six people and six surgeries in one day: three donors and three recipients whose lives were dramatically changed.

Coming seemingly full circle, Laura was in the middle of a Christmas shopping trip, yet again at Walmart, when she got the news that MUSC had found a match for her: her new kidney was scheduled for December 30, 2020. Beasley felt blessed more than anything to receive the news, particularly after a neighbor's son had recently passed away from the same disease. "I was watching him while I'm going through this, knowing that he wasn't going to get the chance that I got," she says. "It's overwhelming. It's humbling."

"It's my miracle on Earth," she continues. "I was on dialysis for nine months before I got my kidney but there are people sitting on dialysis now that have been on dialysis for years. There are people on dialysis that will have to be on dialysis for the rest of their lives because they can't have a transplant."

Laura was also thankful for her care team at the MUSC Health Transplant Center, who made sure she was not only taken care of but also informed at every turn, providing thorough literature on her disease and recommendations on educational seminars, which she attended, including one on the Living Donor Program. Her team was also able to dispel her fear of doctors. "The nurses and doctors just took care of me," she says. "The nurses there on that transplant floor are the nicest and they care, and they act like they care."

Arming Laura with information also eased her stress levels. Due to her military experience, she suffers from PTSD, high-level anxiety, and depression. "So being able to know what was going on, I think it helped calm that part of me down," she says. "It makes a difference knowing what you're getting into, and that made all the difference to me personally."

The Good Samaritan

Good Samaritan Frank Ramirez becomes an MUSC Living Donor by donating his kidney to Laura Beasely. 
Frank Ramirez

Frank Ramirez has lived in Summerville for over a decade, having moved to the Lowcountry from Washington DC in 2012 in search of a better cost of living and a brand new adventure with his wife and kids. He's worked with the Department of Education since 2004 in multiple ways, and currently it's his job to make sure students have the right resources to learn during these COVID times. But helping people is something he does in and outside of his job.

"I've always had the mindset of 'how can I help,' and hopefully try to take that extra step, whether it's something like a transplant donation or something else," he says. "So I think it's been in the back of my mind to do something like this, but not for any particular reason. Just if it ever came up, I thought if someone asked, I would do it."

He got curious and wondered if there were people around Charleston in need. That's when he found that MUSC had an amazing transplant center, he remembers.

When filling out the initial living donor forms, Frank had no one's name to write in the recipient box. He also didn't know there was such a thing as a Good Samaritan or a transplant chain, so he was in awe that he could start such a chain, a chain that would give three people a kidney, saving and fulfilling three lives.

The gravity of what it all means continues to bewilder Frank. "It still feels unreal. It seems so much bigger now and it's become this amazing thing," he says. "I'm at a loss for words explaining it."

Frank has since started another chain: a text chain with all six members of the transplant chain, six people who have something in common that is unique to only them. "I just think that's really cool," Laura says," that all six of us combined created this bond."

Frank was also amazed at the ability to learn about the whole process along the way with a staff that was willing to share their knowledge and help every patient feel more at ease. For Frank, that meant asking a lot of questions that always had answers.

"And what I heard every step of the way is, 'We're never going to put you in a situation that leaves you worse off than what you started with,'" he says. "They're very in tune with the needs of the patient. I always had the sense that they were going to take really great care of me."

From the small laparoscopic incisions to the quick recovery time, the whole process was much easier than he had ever imagined. Frank encourages anyone thinking about donating to not give it a second more of hesitation. "If you're healthy, just do it, join the club. It';s an amazing experience."

He's also grateful for the support of his family. "My wife April was there at every turn and I could not have even considered donating without her," he says. "I know it was not easy for her to watch me go through this but she knew it served a much larger purpose." As for Laura, she has a few words of encouragement for those who are waiting on their own miracle on Earth. "Don't lose hope," she says. "Because there are days, I promise you, when you feel like giving up. But it will come to you, so please don't give up."

Good Samaritan Frank Ramirez becomes an MUSC Living Donor by donating his kidney to Laura Beasely.

Living Donor Program

For more information about the Living Donor Program, call 843-792-5097.

About the Author

Advance With MUSC Health

Keywords: Patient Story, Surgery, Transplant