How one airman’s selflessness saved four lives
By Capt. Sherri Pierce, 157th ARW Public Affairs
/ Published May 26, 2011
Pease Air National Guard Base -- On May 24, four individuals from across the country woke up from surgery with a new lot on life. All thanks to Master Sgt. Marc Gagnon.
Gagnon, (pronounced Ganyon) an Air National Guard Joint Force Headquarters knowledge operations specialist, donated his kidney to an anonymous receiver which sparked three other kidney donations in a process called a kidney chain transplant.
A kidney chain transplant "creates opportunities for endless recipient-donor pairings," according to the University of California Health System. "It starts with an altruistic donor - someone who wants to donate a kidney out of the goodness of his or her heart. That kidney is transplanted into a recipient who had a donor willing to give a kidney, but was not a match. To keep the chain going, the incompatible donor gives a kidney to a patient unknown to him or her who has been identified as a match, essentially 'paying it forward.'"
Gagnon is also placed on the top of the transplant waiting list should he ever need a kidney in the future.
Gagnon first had the notion of donating a kidney years ago when his wife's cousin Karen needed a transplant. When Karen was five, she underwent a routine tonsillectomy but, due to undiagnosed high blood pressure and severe complications, immediately had to have one kidney removed. The other kidney was damaged but to a lesser degree. In high school, Karen started dialysis on her remaining kidney and had her first cadaver transplant in 1987. In 2004, she starting rejecting that kidney and was put back on dialysis the waiting list. It was then that Gagnon, a universal donor with type O blood, started the process to see if he was a match. Unfortunately, Karen passed away before a transplant could take place.
In October 2010, Gagnon read that 19 people a day die waiting for organ transplants and that got him thinking, "If I was going to donate back then, why not do it now?"
Gagnon did some research and got in touch with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center who does living organ donations. Over several months, Gagnon met with surgical teams and social workers and underwent a series of test to ensure he was healthy enough to withstand surgery and live life with one kidney.
"I discovered I am a very healthy 52-year-old male," he reported.
Gagnon also had a many discussions with his wife, Cheryl.
"This will have a big impact on her," he said. "She will have to care for me." The recovery time is estimated at about 4 to 6 weeks, according to Gagnon.
"I will be with him every step of the way," she said.
How did Gagnon prepared for the surgery? In this day and age, he did what every tech savvy individual would do. He had a virtual going away party for his kidney on Facebook.
During this virtual event, Gagnon asked for thoughts and prayers on the day of the operation and for people to consider being an organ donor.
"People shouldn't be taking organs to the grave," he said. "There is just so much good that can come from donating them."
The response was "overwhelming," Gagnon said.
"Marc, what you are doing is brave and unselfish," one post read.
"WOW. I am speechless. What an incredible selfless thing to do. You are awesome and
I am proud to be your friend!" another post read.
Not only did he discover the tremendous support he had for the kidney donation but also that many people are already organ donors.
"What a gift! I am already an organ donor and fully believe in it."
"I have the red heart on my license."
"I too am an organ donor."
The posts go on and on.
"I'm humbled by the reaction," said Gagnon. "I don't consider myself a cynical person but
I was expecting someone to say, 'Are you out of your mind?' And nobody has," he said. "I have received lots and lots of prayers."
"If one person who reads this article turns to a loved one and says, 'God forbid anything happen to me, I want to be an organ donor.' That would be the coolest," Gagnon remarked.