Advance with MUSC Health

Program Facilitator's Story Inspires "Good Samaritan" Living Donor

Advance With MUSC Health
September 20, 2022
MUSC Health living donor Jennifer McGuire and transplant recipient Travis Snell hold up shirts that say "Kidney Buddies".

Student Donates Kidney After Reading "It Was Best Thing I've Ever Done"

Jennifer McGuire only vaguely knew about kidney donation, but she knew enough to know she kind of wanted to do it.

"I thought, one day I think I would like to do it," says the Charleston, SC resident.

Jennifer is a planner. And because she was about to start a master's degree program at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), she was following the school's Instagram account, where one day she saw an article posted that described the process. The post mentioned Lilian Jarvinen's personal note about donating a kidney. Lilian is the Living Donor Program Facilitator at MUSC.

"In the article, Lilian talked about donating her own kidney," says Jennifer. "She said it was the best thing she'd ever done and she'd do it again. I was also aware of the statistics about how many people need kidneys, and it's a lot. There's a need and I saw it, and I felt like: now I know how to do it."

The "one day" thought of donating became concrete. Jennifer the planner quickly strategized how she could be a part of the MUSC Health Living Donor Program and use the downtime she would have between quitting her job in clinical research and starting school to have the surgery and recover. She accessed the donor website at MUSC, which has one of the largest kidney transplant programs in the country, and downloaded the online referral form to be a living donor.

A Shared Experience

MUSC Health living donor Jennifer McGuire and transplant recipient Travis Snell hold MUSC Health kidney-shaped pillows. 
MUSC Health living donor Jennifer McGuire and transplant recipient Travis Snell.

And just like that, Jennifer started the process to become what is called a non-directed, Good Samaritan donor — a person who donates a living organ to a stranger because it feels like the right thing to do. An invaluable resource, Good Samaritan living donors are much less common than directed donors, or donors who name the specific person (usually a family member or friend) who will receive the transplant. According to Waitlist Zero, a group that advocates for living kidney transplants, Good Samaritan donors make up only about 3 percent of all living donor transplants in the United States.

Jennifer found it comforting and convenient that Lilian could answer her questions, since Lilian is also a living donor. And when Jennifer's wife, Marielys, expressed some worry about the process, Lilian was able to address all her concerns.

Fighting for Quality of Life

For Travis Snell, Jennifer's donation was a gift he thought he'd never receive. The Vance, SC, resident had started dialysis more than a year before and had begun making plans in anticipation of his death.

"Once I went on dialysis, I wondered how much time I had," says Travis. "I knew it wouldn't be long, so I started putting things in order." Despite eating right, taking their medicines, and taking care of themselves, both his mother and grandmother had died from renal failure as a complication of high blood pressure and diabetes. Both women had been on dialysis for about three years before their deaths. His mom had been on the transplant list herself.

"I got my bag packed," she'd tell Travis. "If they call me, I need for you to take me."

"I'll get off work to take you," Travis had reassured his mom. But he never got the chance. So when he got the phone call that he had a living donor and MUSC was ready to schedule surgery, he "knew what a blessing it was," he says. He was already fighting to maintain some quality of life.

Dialysis had felt like a major hit, like a trauma to his body. "It's not the answer, it's not the key," he says. After dialysis, Travis would come home and go straight to bed. "My legs would hurt, my stomach would cramp. I had a skin crawling sensation that's common with diabetes. On the weekend, I could do my yard work but then I would be done for the day, beat down."

A New Beginning

The transplant surgery and Jennifer's living donation changed all that. "You can tell your body is different. It's amazing. It's like my whole body has changed for the better," he says. "I have more energy, I'm not as tired, I'm not as sore." Travis calls it "a new beginning, a new start."

Since their procedures, Travis and Jennifer have gotten to know each other and shared some fun moments. "During my recovery in the hospital, I lost my interest in meat. I was happy to eat the vegetables but didn't want any meat.

Jennifer and Marielys stopped by to visit me before they left the hospital and I was picking at my lunch. I could not figure out why I could not swallow that meat!" Travis says, laughing. "I'm a vegetarian," Jennifer told him with a chuckle.

MUSC Health living donor Jennifer McGuire and transplant recipient Travis Snell hug.

Recently, Jennifer and Marielys got together with Travis and his wife, Courtney, for dinner. "When Travis arrived, he mentioned he'd been crazy about candy lately. I shared with him that I have a major sweet tooth," says Jennifer. "We both were laughing and wondering if this is a real thing, joking about finding out if there's science behind it."

"I had no expectations about staying in contact with the person I donated to, but it's nice that we are," continues Jennifer. "I hope we're going to see each other regularly." For Travis' and Courtney's upcoming wedding reception, Travis has added vegetarian options to the menu with Jennifer in mind.

"I have a piece of her inside me," says Travis. "She's my sister now."

"It was easy and felt like the right thing to do," says Jennifer, who feels like she and Travis are family now. "I made a fairly small sacrifice to allow someone to get back to their life. I was happy to do it."

Learn more about the MUSC Health Transplant Center and the process of becoming a living donor at MUSC Health's Living Donor Program.