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Grateful and blessed: Teacher donates kidney for student’s transplant

By Susan Shinn Turner
For the Salisbury Post

“We are feeling extra grateful in this season of Thanksgiving and Christmas,” says Liz Morrow.

Why?

Her son Luke, 15, received a kidney this summer. But not from a stranger — from a fellow
member of First Baptist Church.

“It’s a huge deal, and it should be,” says donor Angie Peterson, 47. “It changed their
lives. I really felt it was the Holy Spirit leading me.”

At age 4, Luke was diagnosed with nephrotic syndrome, a rare kidney disorder.

“At first,” Liz says, “he would take a round of high-dose prednisone and we would move
on.”

That in itself was tough, with weight gain and mood swings, but Luke could attain
remission.

“He dealt with it well,” his mom says. “Early on, it was manageable.”

But then he would face more frequent bouts of illness. By fourth grade, he took a
chemotherapy drug that put him in remission for 18 months. The second round lasted a
year. By the third round, he had an allergic reaction and had to stop. In seventh grade, he
came out of remission and missed a whole year of school.

“That was definitely the toughest year,” Liz says.

She and her husband, Danny, have two other sons, Walker, 10, and Jack, 9.

Luke received help with his studies but had to go to the hospital every seven to 10 days to have
excess fluid drawn from his body.

By ninth grade, the family was told that Luke would eventually have to have a kidney transplant. At his next checkup, Liz says, his numbers had “tanked out.” He went on in-home peritoneal dialysis at night.

“Most of it, he slept through it,” Liz says.

He attended Gray Stone Day School, although by the end his dialysis was lasting 12 hours.

Meeting with the transplant team at Brenner Children’s Hospital was when Liz felt the most overwhelmed, she says. Luke had to have heart scans, blood work and dental work and make sure all vaccines were up to date.

Then Liz and Danny learned how to reach out to donors.

“I posted on Facebook and told all my family and friends,” Liz says.

And people responded: Family, friends from high school and college, friends from church.

“It was a big deal that so many people were willing to be tested,” Liz says.

Liz and Danny sent a letter to all potential donors, along with an information packet.

“From that point, I had no idea what was happening because of privacy laws,” Liz says.

Liz was not eligible to donate because she had Hodgkin’s disease when Luke was an infant. Danny had recently had a melanoma lesion removed. Her sister Paige and her son Jack — as well as Luke — have only one kidney.

Two first cousins were matches, but neither worked out.

Taken together, Liz says, “it was pretty crushing.”

But then Angie, the friend from First Baptist, turned out to be a match.

Angie taught for 21 years at Erwin Middle School and is in her 25th year of teaching. This summer, she began teaching at Mooresville Middle School.

“She obviously has a heart for kids,” Liz says.

Angie talked about the transplant with her husband, Matt.

“I can’t say he was happy,” she admits. “He was just like, ‘Holy cow!’ But he was very supportive. He obviously worried about me, and knew it was going to be a huge process. I think he was in shock for a while.”

The couple have two children, Levi, 19, and Cindy, 13, who also supported their mom’s decision.

The transplant was done June 25. Angie and Luke were in operating rooms side by side.

Liz, Danny, her mom, Angie’s mom and husband, father and stepmother and the First Baptist youth pastor were all there, waiting. They were told Angie’s kidney had been removed and Luke was being prepared.

“It was an emotional time,” Liz says.

Both surgeries only took several hours.

“I was surprised it wasn’t a longer surgery,” Liz says.

Even better news, Luke’s new kidney started working immediately. Luke did have a complication after surgery in that the albumin started showing up again. He had to have 12 plasmapheresis treatments for a month, which meant the plasma in his blood was replaced with donor plasma.

“It’s been in remission ever since,” Liz says.

At the time, Liz was devastated, but Angie told her, “God’s taken you this far. He’s not
going to let you go now.”

Angie says the first couple of weeks after surgery were “a little rough” for her. “But then
every day just continued to get a little bit better.”

Still, she says, “I would encourage people to be donors. On my end, yes, I’ve had to recover. But to watch and hear how Luke is doing — this is nothing compared to what he’s getting to do now. To be honest, choosing to donate my kidney was less stressful than choosing to change jobs. Being a donor was a very peaceful experience, and it brings me a lot of happiness.”

Luke recovered and started his sophomore year at Gray Stone.

“He feels completely great,” his mom says. “His blood work is spotless, and he has tons of energy. He is a really good patient and has had a positive attitude.”

Luke agrees.

“It’s really good,” he says of his return to Gray Stone, where math and chemistry are his favorite subjects. “School has been a lot easier. It’s just been helpful not to have to miss. At Gray Stone, it’s pretty rigorous.”

He’s grateful that an acquaintance from church was able to change his life.

“I knew her from being a lady at church,” Luke says. “What was crazy was that a person who wasn’t a relative or close friend was able to give. That was pretty amazing. Our families are a lot closer now, obviously. We always see each other at church.”

He adds, “I look at things a lot differently and cherish life a lot more now. I feel great. I’m living a pretty normal life from now on. That’s awesome.”

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