Emory University Hospital transplant nurse Allison Batson has spent many years caring for patients in need of a life-saving organ transplant. She has seen many patients’ lives saved because of the gift of organ donation … and many others lost because a matching organ simply could not be located in time.
Recently though, Allison was not only in the position to provide care and comfort at the bedside of a transplant patient in desperate need of a kidney transplant, she selflessly gave of herself – literally- by becoming an organ donor to 23 year-old Clay Taber of Columbus, Georgia.
Clay graduated from Auburn University in August and is soon to marry his college sweetheart in a few months. While he has been eagerly looking toward his future, over the last few months, he’s also been battling the fight of his life.
After his graduation, Clay’s family took a celebratory beach vacation at the Gulf of Mexico – not long after the unprecedented oil spill that occurred there. A few weeks later, Clay was not feeling well.
A doctor’s visit and standard blood tests uncovered Clay had Goodpasture’s Syndrome, a rare (approximately 1-in 1 million), life-threatening autoimmune disorder related to antibody formation in the body. Goodpasture’s syndrome is characterized by renal (kidney) disease and lung hemorrhage.
There is no exact cause known for Goodpasture’s disease, a disease in which the immune system fights the body’s own normal tissues through creating antibodies that attack the lungs and kidneys. Sometimes the disorder is triggered by a viral infection, or by the inhalation of gasoline or other hydrocarbon solvents – such as those found in crude oil.
While Clay was lucky that the disorder was discovered before his lungs were affected, he was now suffering from complete kidney failure. He was transferred to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, where he would spend numerous weeks on the 7th floor – the transplant unit, where he would undergo weeks of dialysis and plasmapheresis (blood purification procedure used to treat several autoimmune diseases.)
And that’s where the bond began.
“Immediately when Clay came onto our unit, he became a special patient that everyone just gravitated to,” said Allison Batson. “Here was this young man with everything in his life ahead of him, and he was fighting for his life. He quickly became friends of many of the staff, and really was just a tremendous inspiration to us all.”
Allison continued to visit with Clay during his weeks at the hospital, and a deeper connection began to form than the typical nurse-patient bond.
“I learned more about Clay, his family, his life, what he saw for his future. He wanted to get married to his sweetheart. He just graduated from college. The whole world was his, with the exception of this incredibly rare illness that hit him out of the blue. I have children his age, and I felt the same kind of pain his mother was feeling. Something inside me said I needed to do more.”
Soon Clay was strong enough to return home, where he would continue to receive dialysis treatment for a few months while waiting for a donor organ. Because Clay’s blood type is O-negative, finding a matching donor would prove to be challenging.
Clay’s mother, Sandra, would be tested as a possible match. She, however, would not qualify to be Clay’s organ donor. Then in late October, during a visit to Emory and the transplant unit where he regularly visited with friends and well-wishers, Clay, of course, also met with Allison.
“She said ‘If you’ll let me do this, I want to donate my kidney to you,” Clay recalls. “Something at that point just hit me. There are so many people in need of an organ transplant and have been waiting like me – even longer than me in many cases. And here is Allison offering to do this amazing thing. When she said ‘If you’ll let me,’ there was just something in those words. I couldn’t say no.”
Soon after, Allison would undergo the donor testing process that would eventually confirm her as a perfect match for Clay.
“People have asked me why I would do this for a stranger, or what if I had a family member in need one day, or why would I risk my own life or health for someone I barely know. My answer is because I can. Sure, I have children who might possibly be in need one day, but here was this young man right in front of me who needs help – today, and I am in a position to help him – today. If what I do for Clay causes more awareness among others that live organ donation is a possibility, then I can only hope that other lives will be saved because of my actions.”
On Tuesday, January 10th, the families of both Allison and Clay gathered in the early morning hours at Emory University Hospital. Smiles, tears and hugs were abundant between people who had formed an unbreakable bond over the course of the last few months, and had, in effect become extended family to one another.
In Operating Room #9, Allison underwent surgery to remove her kidney, while Clay was prepped for surgery just 30-feet away in Operating Room #8. Hours later, both patients were resting comfortably on the 7th floor of Emory University Hospital, where they had met by chance just months before. Both ready to start the new year in incredible fashion – with a new lease on life for Clay, and as a hero for Allison.