Health & Wellness

Kidney Transplant: Gov. Livingston Classmates' Friendship Saves Lives

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Organ donation inspired by friendship of two Gov. Livingston classmates, Heather Cox Smith and Cara Connelly. Credits: Provided by Cara Connelly
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BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Social media is responsible for reconnecting two Gov. Livingston classmates, Heather Cox Smith and Cara Connelly, leading to a friendship inspired chain of life saving organ donations for three terminally ill patients. 

This life saving story began when two Gov. Livingston graduates reconnected through Facebook after losing touch since their 1985 graduation. Cox Smith and Connelly found that they both lived in Massachusetts. Since reconnecting a few years ago, they have enjoyed getting together for coffee, dinner and the occasional 5K road race, said Connelly.  

Connelly became ill last spring -- "in less than 24 hours, I was in a Boston hospital undergoing lots of tests to figure out what was wrong with me," said Connelly. "I found myself staring down the barrel of a [kidney] transplant and on dialysis."

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During Connelly's long hospital stay, Cox Smith, a single mother, found the time to visit Connelly in the hospital and sit with her during dialysis -- offering to donate her own kidney. For various reasons, Connelly is not a candidate for a transplant. 

Cox Smith was inspired through her friend's illness to become an organ donor. She read about a Berkeley Heights teen and graduate of Gov. Livingston who was in need of a kidney transplant and proceeded to go through testing to see if she could be a match. Cox Smith tested as a match, however, circumstances didn't "pan out".

With the desire to help, Cox Smith continued to go through the organ transplant program through Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City and donated a kidney on March 19 to a perfect stranger.

This selfless act by Cox Smith set off the chain of three kidney donations through the Kidney Exchange Programs. The recipient's wife plans to donate a kidney to a stranger later in April and that recipient's family will be donating as well.

Mount Sinai has one of the largest living donor programs in the United States according to their website. They have developed an innovative program that enables kidney transplant recipients who have willing but incompatible living donors to exchange kidneys with compatible donors. They participate in local and national paired exchange programs and donor chain initiatives.

Visit NJ Sharing Network to learn more about Kidney Exchange Programs.

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