Jennifer Landry has always donated blood and always wanted to donate bone marrow. But before she had the chance, she saw a Facebook post from one of her friends.
“O positive kidney donor needed,” the post relayed. Landry, who has Type O-positive blood, decided she might as well try to see if she was a match.
“Ten days later, I was a match,” she said. “I didn’t even know who I was donating to at that point.”
Landry has always been someone to help others. The 37-year-old Detroit native is a staff sergeant in the Marine Corps. She planned to join the Navy, and had made her way to join just prior to the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
“The day I went to the recruitment office, I thought, ‘Nope. I’m going to be a Marine,’” she said. “It was kind of weird. I don’t know what it was, but I just had a change of heart.”
Now, she’s stationed at Grissom Air Reserve Base in Indiana. She’ll retire after 20 years in the Marine Corps later this year. She’s ready to move on to something new and plans to take a little time off before starting to work toward her bachelor’s degree in human resources.
When she decided to answer her friend’s post on Facebook in May 2018, she had no idea her organ would be going to a fellow service member. She was donating to her friend’s boyfriend, retired Gunnery Sgt. Charles Dane.
The surgery was March 31, 2020, at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. The process took a while to wait for Dane to be healthy enough for surgery, and was delayed further due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The pair didn’t even meet face to face until the original date of surgery in January 2020, but that didn’t keep them from connecting when they met.
“We often kid around,” she said. “I call him a diva. You’ve got a diva kidney now. … But there’s something different among military. You don’t have to explain yourself.”
While people can live normal lives with only one kidney, the surgery is major. In 2018, 6,442 people received a living-donor kidney, according to the National Kidney Foundation, or NKF.
Rate of recovery and any side effect depend on the patient and type of surgery. Most common side effects include pain and nerve damage at the surgery site, high blood pressure and reduced kidney function later in life, according to the NKF.
Landry’s kidney removal was a laparoscopic one, so she was able to leave the hospital the day after the surgery. The surgery was supposed to take about four hours, but was completed in two.
“They say that the surgery is worse for the person who is donating than the person who is receiving, so I experienced a lot more pain than he did,” she said. “So even though I was discharged the next day, it doesn’t take away from the pain.”
Not just anyone would be willing to go through surgery for a stranger, and Landry knows that. There are more than 100,000 people on the waiting list for a kidney, according to NKF.
“I’ve always had that mindset where I love helping people,” she said. “When I saw this as an opportunity, knowing that I always wanted to donate my bone marrow, (and I) always donated blood, I just kind of jumped at it.
“There was no hesitation. I just went for it.”
Landry said the hardest part of the surgery for her was not being able to have visitors. COVID-19 restrictions kept Landry and Dane from having anyone with them in the hospital.
“Not having family or friends there after surgery was probably the biggest blow,” she said.
Additionally, the plan was to fly to Maryland for the surgery, but the pandemic meant she had to make a 13-hour drive by herself. Luckily, she had a friend drive her home three weeks later because she was still in pain and on medication.
Landry’s family and friends weren’t really surprised by her decision, including her 15-year-old son, Vincent “Quad” Landry IV, who wasn’t phased.
“At first I didn’t tell him because I didn’t know for sure,” she said. “But when I did, he wasn’t shocked. He has two Marine parents, he’s not easily surprised.”
When people tell Landry that she’s a good person for what she’s done, she said sometimes she doesn’t know what to say, but it’s been nice to hear.
“Especially during these really difficult times, it is nice,” she said. “People say, ‘The world would be better with more people like you.’ But, I am just a person who wants to help.”
Landry has suffered a lot of loss in her family since she began the donor process. In 2019, she lost her aunt unexpectedly to cancer. In July 2020, she lost another aunt to stage 4 colon cancer. Then, her mother passed away from gallbladder cancer on Nov. 16, 2020.
“For me, having donated and saved a life and all that, and then not be able to save my own family’s life, it has just opened my eyes,” she said.
Now, she’s an advocate for a proactive approach to health. No matter the health issue, Landry wants people to realize how important it is to take health seriously and know family history.
“It’s about awareness,” she said. “It’s about people just checking their health and being in the know. So for me, it’s just awareness on life.”
Be the first to comment