Sister Gives Brother Last Living-Donor Transplant Before Shutdown
One in an ongoing series
The coronavirus may have stranded people on cruise ships, in hotels or on overseas vacations. But it also stranded BettyAnn Patton: her two children were undergoing transplant surgery at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia, and she was unable to be by their side.
Patton, an Einstein Human Resources executive for 28 years, was already struggling with the idea of the transplant. Her daughter, Danielle, 40, who has a 4-year-old daughter of her own, was undergoing serious surgery to give a kidney to her brother. Patton’s son, Sean, 44, her oldest, her “golden boy” – she’s relentlessly teased for favoring him – was very sick with kidney disease and needed a new organ.
“You have somebody who’s sick and needs a transplant and somebody who wants to give her brother another shot at life but is putting herself at risk. It’s unnerving,” Patton says.
“You think, oh my god, I have two kids who are undergoing major surgery. How am I going to make sure both of them are OK?”
The family is very close. They live five minutes away from each other in South Jersey and congregate all the time – on every occasion and for weekly dinners. Patton took two weeks’ leave from her job as Einstein’s Director of Compensation and Benefits to take care of her children and nurse them back to health.
At least that was the plan when they arrived at the hospital on March 13. Danielle Murphy and her brother, Sean Murphy, were taken back to surgery. Patton and other family members sat in the waiting room, fretting and worrying and waiting for the doctors to give them the all clear.
Patton knew about the coronavirus outbreak, of course, but was unprepared for the text message she received while waiting from a member of her staff: the hospital had decided to ban all visitors from then on for the safety of patients, visitors and staff.
No Visitors: Yes, That Means You
It couldn’t mean her, though, right? An Einstein employee, at the very moment her children were under the knife?
Yes, she was told ruefully by the transplant team; that meant her, too. Patton was granted a brief post-surgery visit with both of her children and then went home, distraught.
What she didn’t realize at the time was how fortunate the family really was: the procedure was the last living-donor kidney transplant the hospital performed before halting them.
“The donor is a healthy person,” explained nephrologist Gitana Bradauskaite, MD, “and we don’t want to risk possibly making them sick through potential exposure to the virus.”
Transplants with organs from deceased donors are continuing at Einstein, with especially stringent criteria applied to recipients.
After the transplant, Sean and Danielle couldn’t see each other, either. Danielle caught a glimpse of Sean in the recovery room when she was wheeled past his gurney on her way to a room. “We waved and smiled,” Danielle says. From then on, they communicated from one hospital room to another by Facetime.
Sean’s high blood pressure, diagnosed when he was 18, eventually culminated in kidney failure and severe illness that left him unable to do much of anything.
He Was Reluctant; She Insisted
Still, he and Danielle have always been the closest of the three children, and he was reluctant to have her donate a kidney, even when she turned out to be the best match of all the family members.
“I was more concerned for her than myself,” Sean says. “I tried to talk her out of it, but she was just not having it.”
Sean is now recovering at his mother’s house, connecting on Facetime with his two children, his grandson and Danielle. She is back home with her husband and daughter.
“I was excited to help my brother,” Danielle says of donating her kidney. But she also had another motive.
“My mother was constantly upset and distraught. Sean is my mom’s favorite – he’s her baby and everybody knows it,” she says with a laugh. “I would do anything for my mother. Now she seems to be doing so much better.”
Indeed, BettyAnn Patton is doing better. She’s grateful that the surgery is over and that her children are home and doing well. “I told her now I’m going to be the favorite,” Danielle says.