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Windham Nurse Gives Kidney to Help Colleague

September 26, 2023

After 39 years of nursing, at 60 years of age, Wendy Clark, RN, says she has found her calling.

On July 20, she donated a kidney to a stranger. This set in motion a series of events that means a Hartford HealthCare colleague who needs a kidney will receive their organ in the coming months.

Clark, a surgical services nurse educator at Windham Hospital, was inspired to sign up as a potential kidney donor after reading the story of Lucienne Donofrio, a medical assistant at Hartford HealthCare Medical Group’s General Surgery Department in Hartford. Lucy was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 16.

As an adult, she developed diabetic kidney disease, which often has no symptoms until about 80 percent of kidney function is lost. A pregnancy in 2016 put additional stress on her kidneys and her daughter Giovanna’s birth resulted in severe kidney damage. On dialysis since the start of this year, her story in the HHC weekly email Heartbeat caught Wendy’s attention.

“She’s 38 years old, she’s got a 7-year-old, and she needs a kidney,” Wendy says. “I’ll tell you it was the photos of her with her daughter that did it for me. I thought, ‘I have to help’.”

She contacted HHC’s Living Donor Transplant office. “It took six months to get cleared,” Wendy says. “I’m 60 years old. They wanted to make sure everything was good.”

Wendy’s kidney isn’t going to Lucy. Instead, “we expect Lucienne to be eligible following Wendy’s donation,” explains Asamoah (Azzy) Anane, living donor transplant coordinator at HHC. “We would then expect her to be transplanted within four to six months.”

Anane says a person doesn’t have to “match” with Lucy in order to help her. Working with the National Kidney Registry based in Connecticut, a donor provides a kidney to someone within the registry that is a match. Lucy then becomes eligible for a donation from someone who matches her.

Hartford HealthCare provides a six-week enhanced disability benefit paid at a colleague’s regular rate of pay. Colleagues who act as living donors also will not be required to use a week of PTO time before becoming eligible for disability leave. (Learn more on the Leaves of Absence page of HHC Connect.)

Anane notes that there is zero cost to the donor for the testing, the procedure, or the two years of follow-up care involved in the donation of the kidney.

In early July, Wendy was notified that a recipient had been matched with her, and her surgery was scheduled for July 20 at Hartford Hospital.

After her surgery, she learned her kidney “took a ride up I-91 to Baystate Medical Center” in Springfield, Mass. for transplantation.

Just five days post-op, Wendy said she was taking walks up her driveway, managing the pain and “feeling more human every day.” As for the thought that what was once inside her body is now inside someone else’s, she says, “When they would come in to empty my urine (from the catheter) after surgery, I would laugh. A nurse asked what was funny, and I said, ‘My kidney is making urine in someone else’s body right now.”

When all is said and done, Wendy says she plans to be “the poster child for kidney donation. If I can do this at 60, a lot of people can do this. This has been a very profound journey for me. I am an educator at heart, and this will be my new cause.”