Window sticker helps NJ woman get kidney, raise donor awareness
LAWRENCE TOWNSHIP (Mercer) — After more than four years of driving his wife Nancy to her early morning dialysis treatments Dennis Van Horn knew he had to do something bigger to help her. In the end a window sticker on his rear windshield made all the difference, and he hopes it will make a difference in other people's lives as well.
Van Horn said he got the idea for the sticker after seeing a similar one on Facebook. After looking at other versions online he said he "felt kind of confident" because "I figured if it went on the internet there'd be somebody out there." And while it took some time, and inquiries from dozens of people, his wife got the kidney she had been hoping for almost a month ago.
While most kidney transplants come from cadavers, Van Horn said the sign was "directly responsible" for finding a living donor, which usually has a longer lifespan for the person getting the organ. He also credited local business FastSigns for donating the materials and labor to have the sticker installed.
Once the sticker was in his windshield he said they couldn't go anywhere without someone reaching out and offering to help. Whether it was a vacation to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, or to Pittsburgh for a football game, the calls and texts kept coming.
A woman from Mississippi even flew up to Philadelphia to see if she could be a match. After three days of tests it was determined that she was not a match, but Van Horn said the tests also revealed that the woman had tuberculosis, which she wouldn't have gotten treated for had she not gone through the process.
In the end though, it wasn't an online post, or a person seeing the sticker while the Van Horns were on the road that helped them find a donor; it was a woman walking her dog on the street where they live. The woman's husband had unsuccessfully tried to donate part of his liver in the past, Van Horn said, so when his wife saw this opportunity she thought he would be interested.
Van Horn did not identify the man to protect his privacy, but said one night in March he came knocking on the Van Horn's door and the slow process to donation got started. As it turned out, the man, who lived less than two miles from the Van Horns was not a viable donor for Nancy. However, working with the people at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center they were able to put together a "shared donor" program where four people, including Nancy were able to get new kidneys.
Nancy got her new kidney last month, and since then her husband said she is doing "much better." A month of not having to go to dialysis has also been a welcome change for the Van Horns.
"Snow or rain or shine you cannot go without dialysis," he said. "We had to get up at 5 in the morning because we had first shift to be there by 6 and then I would be picking her up by 10-10:30, and that was Monday, Wednesday and Friday."
An admitted "born cynic," Van Horn said going through the whole experience has made him realize that "there's a lot more good people out there than I ever thought." From the total strangers who offered to be tested, to the folks at FastSign who donated the sign for people to see, to the couple that helped provide the kidney, he said they've seen the best in a lot of people.
"The guy that donated his kidney is just an incredible person," he said. "We still keep in touch. I know we always will."
Van Horn also knows that many people are not as lucky as his family. He said the wait for a kidney in New Jersey can be as long as seven years, as long as six years in Pennsylvania, and as long as 11 years in New York. While dialysis can help patients wait for a donor, there is such a shortage of viable organs that some die before they can get a transplant.
As his wife continues to recover from the transplant, Van Horn said the whole experience has made him a proponent of all organ donation. He said whether it is from a living donor, or someone who has recently died, a person making that decision can help countless lives.
"When you talk about transplants, it virtually takes nothing away from you for being a cadaver donor," he said. "It takes a really special person to do it, to be a live donor."