Wednesday, September 22nd, 2021

Physician proud of daughter’s kidney donation

Posted: Friday, September 14, 2018

There’s no time like a family gathering for a special announcement. And at Easter, J. David Carnes, MD, and his wife, Janice, received surprising news from their daughter, Colleen.

“She said, ‘Oh, by the way, I’m going to donate a kidney this summer,’ says Carnes, who practices with Parkview Physicians Group – Family Medicine and sees patients at Parkview Huntington Hospital. “She was very committed and comfortable with her decision. So we said, ‘Oh, OK, then.’ We were all for it.”

Colleen Carnes eventually told her family she began contemplating organ donation around Christmastime, when she saw a Facebook post from her childhood friend Emily Jones. Emily’s young son, Henry Whitacre, had finally grown enough to be able to receive a kidney transplant. Born with a congenital condition affecting the formation of his bladder, Henry had spent his young life making four to six trips per week from Fort Wayne to Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis for dialysis. Now, if a kidney donor could be located, he and his family could be free of that burdensome routine, and Henry could spend more time just being a kid.

Colleen was moved to act. She and Emily hadn’t seen each other for close to a decade, but she reached out to let Emily know she was an initial match to donate a kidney to Henry and would have further testing done. The wheels began turning, and surgery was set for Henry’s fourth birthday, July 18.

“Colleen has always been healthy and never had major surgery,” says her dad, “but she was very calm and not at all anxious. She went through a very thorough evaluation. My wife and I were confident she would be treated well.”

The 28-year-old was admitted to University Hospital in Indianapolis, where surgery to remove one of her kidneys would take place following consults with a nephrologist, a transplant surgeon, a gynecologist, and a psychologist. Then the kidney would be delivered to Riley, where Henry awaited transplant surgery.

Colleen’s procedure took three hours; Henry’s, about five hours. During Colleen’s surgery, her parents discovered the story of their daughter’s donation had hit the media, and the next morning it was featured on the front page of the Indianapolis newspaper. The story also received coverage in Fort Wayne media, and Colleen would be featured in a national network TV talk show interview, taped at the hospital, about the positive connections that social media platforms like Facebook can provide.

“I think the story just kind of captured everybody’s interest,” says Carnes.

The Carnes family learned the transplant was very successful and that the kidney began functioning for Henry right away. Colleen spent only two days in the hospital, with her parents by her side. Henry went home about two and a half weeks later, after physicians ensured all was well and he began the anti-rejection medication he will take for the rest of his life. Two weeks ago, the news was all good at Colleen’s follow-up appointment with her physician.

“She’s always been a determined young lady,” says Carnes. “She said she just wanted to do one great thing in her life. And then this opportunity came along to help out her friend.”

After her hospitalization, Colleen returned to Richmond, Kentucky, to make up National Guard duty she missed during her surgery. A military police officer (MP) in the Kentucky National Guard, she keeps very busy, says her father. Last October, she spent the month in the U.S. Virgin Islands, assisting with relief efforts in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

The disaster recovery work suited her, according to Carnes: “Colleen’s always had a heart for the underserved, for anyone who’s in trouble. When she sees someone down on their luck, her instinct is to help. She’s got a charitable streak, and she does it her way.”

Colleen has since returned to her regular job with the Marion County Department of Corrections. The University of Louisville criminal justice grad supervises low-level offenders transitioning out after incarceration.

Looking back, Carnes notes his daughter may have been headed toward organ donation for a while: “She’s been a blood donor her whole life. And years ago, she talked about bone marrow transplant as something that interested her. So I think there might have been an inclination there. And Colleen and Emily were really good friends as kids, so this opportunity was very appealing with its personal connection.”

As part of the transplant program, Colleen had to go through an education process, learning how to take care of her remaining kidney. Carnes chuckles, “She never wanted to go into medicine, but she sure knows everything about the kidneys now.”

Carnes, a Huntington native, has practiced family medicine in Huntington for 37 years, and was recognized in 2017 for his compassion, collaboration, and contributions to local healthcare with the Dr. R.B. Peare and Dr. John B. Kay Award for Excellence in Healthcare. Does he think Colleen got her desire “to do one great thing” for someone from him?

“She’s always been her own person,” he says. “Janice and I are so very proud of her. And what she did for Henry had such an impact in the media! I hope that people think more about organ donation as an option, as living donors.”

Carnes says the family chose long ago, at Colleen’s insistence, to check the organ donor box on their driver’s licenses. But until now, they hadn’t thought much about it. Now, he will emphasize the subject more with his patients. Citing numbers from the National Kidney Foundation, he explains: “There is such a need for living organ donors. I’ve read that well over 100,000 people are currently in need of organ transplants, and the lion’s share of those people need a kidney. Donations come from around 11,000 cadaver donors each year, but only about 5,000 people opt to make live donations. And more people are added to the waiting list all the time.”

“I want to make more people aware in case this is something they’d want to do,” Carnes notes. “A kidney transplant is safe. You can live fine with just one kidney. Your life expectancy is the same with one kidney as with two. And there are plenty of people walking around out there who may only have one kidney functioning and they don’t even know it.”

J. David Carnes, MD, Parkview Physicians Group – Family Medicine, right, with his wife, Janice, and daughter, Colleen, at the Parkview Huntington Community Gala last year, where Carnes was honored for his contributions to healthcare in Huntington County. Colleen made her own contribution in July, when she donated a kidney to a Fort Wayne boy, inspiring regional and national media coverage and her parents’ pride.