ROCKPORT, Maine — Debbie Colson is a technician in the emergency department at Pen Bay Medical Center where she provides care for patients who come through the hospital doors.
The 35-year-old mother from Warren is going beyond the call of duty, however, by preparing to donate a kidney that would allow a co-worker to receive a life-saving organ transplant.
Colson went public this week with her plan to donate a kidney, saying she wanted to increase public awareness of the need for organ donations.
Her kidney will not go directly to her co-worker Robert Wareheim but, as part of the organ donation exchange program, she will donate her kidney on the same day that he will receive one because of her donation.
Colson has known the 57-year-old Wareheim for years. He works in the maintenance department of the same hospital.
She said she has been aware of his health condition but that he has always had a good outlook and cracks jokes.
When the kidneys do not work properly they lose their ability to filter waste products from the blood, according to the Maine Medical Website. Excess waste and chemicals start to build up in the body. This condition is known as kidney failure.
Wareheim’s condition has its roots in diabetes and high blood pressure — the most common causes of kidney failure. He said he expected he would need a new kidney years ago but through the right medication regimen and diet he has been able to delay the time when he would have to have the transplant.
He said Colson offered to donate her kidney about a year ago.
Colson said that when she found out that Wareheim was in need of the kidney, she decided it was something she should do.
“I will be giving the gift of life,” she said.
Colson has undergone numerous tests which have been covered by her health insurance. While the tests determined she was not a direct match for Wareheim, she still decided to donate when she learned her co-worker would get one in return.
Roxanne Taylor, the living donor coordinator for the Maine Transplant Program at Maine Medical Center in Portland, said nationally 96,000 people are waiting for transplants. At Maine Medical, there is a list of 100 to 120 people waiting for a kidney transplant.
The average waiting period for a person to get a kidney is four to five years, she said. `
Taylor said non-relative live donations are very common because of advancement in drugs that help fight the immune system’s rejections of organs. More than half the donations at Maine Medical last year were from live donors.
She said there is no need anymore to be a direct blood relative. She said that donors just need to be blood type compatible.
She said there have been a couple donations she is aware of between co-workers but they are rare.
“These people are absolutely giving, unique people.”
“She’s a very, very generous person,” he said.
Wareheim said he was speaking about his situation simply to increase awareness of the demand for organ donations.
Colson said the surgery for live donors is not invasive. She said the kidney is removed through laparoscopic surgery. The expected time for people to recover from this procedure is two to three weeks.
Wareheim and Colson noted that there has been no time set yet for when he will have the transplant. He said he must recover from other health issues before the surgery can be done.
People who are interested in being a living donor can contact Taylor at Maine Medical Center.
Wareheim also noted that people should also consider being donors upon their death.
“It’s a shame that more people don’t because it could save so many people,” he said.
The Maine Secretary of State’s website has a section in which people can add their name to the Maine Organ Donor Registry. The website is http://www.maine.gov/online/donatelife
Officials recommend that people who plan to donate their organs after their death to make their family members aware in advance.
Colson said people ask her how she can donate a kidney when she has a 6-year-old son, but said she said her son is doing well and her action is simply the right thing to do. She said her parents are also on board with her decision.
Colson also noted that employees are planning to hold a spaghetti supper to help defray some of the medical expenses for Wareheim. A fund has also been established at the First Bank where the public can donate, she said.