Soulmates: Dan and Maureen’s Story
What happens when a world traveler is grounded by a lifelong disease she thought was under control? Do you believe that soulmates actually exist? This Perspectives Feature series shares the extraordinary stories of patients who got their lives back because of the expert care they received at Einstein Healthcare Network’s Department of Transplantation, and shines the spotlight on our dedicated team of specialists and visionaries.
Dan and Maureen Jordan are best friends. They grew up in the same neighborhood. Their families have always been connected. They fell for one another when they were young, got married, and raised three children in a close-knit home that was always filled with joy and laughter.
So, in 2014, when Dan learned he would need a kidney transplant, it was no surprise that his wife and three adult children all immediately volunteered to donate one of theirs.
Dan’s kidney failure was the result of complications from diabetes. He had been diagnosed in 1993 at the age of 30. The busy young family did not pay much attention to it at the time.
“We didn’t realize how serious it was,” recalls Dan. “Diabetes doesn’t make you feel sick, so we put it out of our minds and just kept doing what we were doing. When you’re young, you think you’re invincible.”
For 15 years, Dan managed his diabetes with medication. Then a routine series of tests revealed that his kidney proteins were high. His endocrinologist suggested he see a kidney specialist.
Maureen was working at Einstein. She had joined the healthcare network in 1996 as a respiratory therapist, and after earning her master’s degree, had taken an administrative position. She asked her colleagues to recommend a specialist for Dan.
Dan’s care team at Einstein watched over him for the next several years. Transplant Nephrologist Gitana Bradauskaite, MD, got to know Dan and Maureen very well as she closely monitored Dan’s kidney function.
“Over time, Dan’s kidney disease progressed,” says Dr. Bradauskaite. “There came a point when I had to tell him he needed—and was now eligible for—a kidney transplant.”
“It was shocking,” says Dan. “I still felt fine.”
“It really rocked our world,” adds Maureen. “After we talked about it, we had to tell our kids. That was probably the hardest part. As parents, you don’t want your kids to ever worry. And this was going to make them worry.”
They gathered their children, all in their 20s, around the kitchen table. Maureen talked about a pairing process she had read about, where you donate a kidney to someone who you match with, and someone in their circle donates a kidney to your loved one. She assumed she would not be a direct match for Dan, but planned to be tested.
“I knew when you’re waiting for a kidney from a deceased donor, you can be on that waiting list for a really long time,” says Maureen. “And while you’re waiting, your quality of life is greatly impacted. You get really sick and you need to be on dialysis three times a week, which compromises your system. The outcomes are much better when you have a living donor. Immediately, all three of our kids volunteered to donate one of their kidneys.”
“In that moment, it told me that we made it as parents,” says Dan. “It means everything.”
Maureen and her oldest son went through the testing process first. They learned Maureen was a match. “It really tells you that we’re soul mates,” says Dan.
Dan and Maureen were each assigned their own transplant coordinator at Einstein. Margaret McNulty, Lead Kidney Coordinator, was assigned to Dan.
“You know you’re one of many patients, but anytime I spoke to the doctors, nurses and coordinators at Einstein, I felt like I was their only patient. I knew they were taking the best care of me and my family.”
“The moment a patient becomes eligible for a transplant, they meet with their coordinator,” explains Margaret. “Our role is to educate them, coordinate all of their appointments, and provide the support they’ll need, especially emotionally. The first time I met with Dan and Maureen, I could see they were both stunned. We talked about everything. And I was able to give them hope.”
“You really develop a relationship with your coordinator,” says Maureen. “You rely on them to give you all the right information. But it’s also nice when they can just see that you’re having a bad day or maybe you’re worried, and they put their arms around you and tell you it’s going to be okay. You know you’re one of many patients, but anytime I spoke to the doctors, nurses and coordinators at Einstein, I felt like I was their only patient. I knew they were taking the best care of me and my family.”
Dan’s kidney transplant would be performed by liver and kidney transplant specialist Radi Zaki, MD. Because Dan had a living donor standing by, Dr. Zaki could wait for the most optimal time to do the surgery. This is defined as the period just prior to a patient requiring hemodialysis—more commonly known as kidney dialysis.
“Every year, there are more than 100,000 patients in the U.S. waiting for a donor kidney,” explains Dr. Zaki. “There are about 16,000 deceased donors each year. So, the chances of getting a kidney are low. About 35 to 40 percent of kidney transplants are done through living donations. Having Maureen available whenever Dan needed was crucial to his wellbeing.”
The surgery was scheduled for September 19, 2014. The waiting room was filled to capacity with family members. Both procedures went like clockwork, and after only three days in the hospital, the couple went home to recuperate.
“We took a lot of naps,” Maureen laughs. “We entertained each other 24/7 for three weeks. We knew then we would be able to retire together.”
But Dan and Maureen are far from retired. They recently sold their longtime home in Somerton to move to the art museum area of Center City Philadelphia. Dan works as an auditor with the Iron Workers Union and Maureen is now Vice President of Healthcare Services at Einstein Philadelphia. They walk everywhere, love trying new restaurants, and often explore the city’s different neighborhoods. They’re even taking a rowing class.
“We’re really living life again,” says Dan. “Because of Einstein, and my wife, I have a second chance. We’re not going to let a minute go by.”
Watch the full story of real soul mates, as Dan and Maureen share more of their life changing experience at EinsteinStories.com.
Championing Kidney Donation
Patients waiting to receive a kidney from a deceased donor typically have to wait three to eight years for an available match. Those who receive a kidney from a living donor have significantly better outcomes. Einstein’s Laura Giltzow, MSW, Kidney Transplant Outreach Coordinator, is leading the charge to build awareness about the importance of living donations. Every week, she makes multiple visits to kidney dialysis units across the region to educate patients and staff members.
In 2017, Einstein began hosting Live Donor Champion Workshops, quarterly gatherings for the loved ones of patients waiting for kidneys. Attendees become “Kidney Champions” ─ well-informed advocates who can carry the message to their families, friends, co-workers and communities in search of a living donor for their loved one. Maureen Jordan served as the guest speaker at the first workshop.
More recently, Einstein launched the Kidney Champion app, designed to support those who are working toward find a living kidney donor. Available in the Apple Store and Google Play Store, the app provides guidance, resources, and a centralized communications platform to directly share information about a patient’s status, match requirements, photos, and more to social platforms, email lists and telephone contacts.
“Each of us has two kidneys,” says Maureen. “You can live a full life with one kidney. So, it’s like a gift you can give someone else when needed. You can be tested. You can be a living donor. You can save someone’s life.”
To learn more about becoming a Kidney Champion, contact Laura Giltzow at 215-456-5149 or PfisterL@einstein.edu.