PAMELA PAULK (Chain Donation)



My Kidney Lives and Pees in St. Louis


My name is Pamela Paulk and I donated my kidney to a co-worker on June 22, 2009. I am writing this in hopes of bringing more attention and awareness to the need for kidney donors … and to show that ordinary people can be donors. My hope is that maybe one person who reads this will hear about someone else needing a kidney and will say, “Hey, I can do that. I can give my kidney.”


My kidney lives and pees in St. Louis. Yes, that is my quote that was picked up by TV and newspapers at the press conference last week. Of all the great information shared that day, that was the sound bite the press was waiting for. 


The press conference was held at Johns Hopkins to announce the historic eight-way domino kidney swap, the largest ever done at that time. The star was Dr. Montgomery, along with Mr. and Ms. Brinkman, newlyweds who were recipient and donor, respectively, in the swap. I also had the privilege of being one of eight donors who gave our kidneys to eight recipients over a three-week period at four hospitals in four states. 



When I started this process, I planned to donate my kidney to my co-worker, Robert. I never imagined that I would be a part of something so large and remarkable.


The chain was made up of ten women and six men. Seven of the people were in need of a transplant, and they each had someone willing to donate a kidney to them. However, all seven pairs were incompatible due to blood or tissue type. Donor #1 was the key to it all. Donor #1 was Thomas Koontz, a Virginia gentleman who wanted to give back something to honor his daughter's cure from brain cancer. He willingly gave his kidney to anyone who needed it. I am in awe of the generosity of such an altruistic gift.



He had no idea how big his gift would become. Like me, I suspect he thought that one person would benefit from his gift. Instead,Mr. Koontz's kidney went to Ms. Wolstenholme; Ms. Wolstenholme's sister gave her kidney to Mr. Brinkman; Mr. Brinkman's wife gave her kidney to Mr. Bruce; Mr. Bruce's wife sent her kidney to Detroit to Ms. Johanson; (Are you confused yet? We are only half way through.) Ms. Johanson's friend sent his kidney to Oklahoma City to an anonymous recipient; an anonymous donor there sent a kidney back to Baltimore for my co-worker Robert; I was donor #7. My kidney was flown from Baltimore to St. Louis and transplanted into an energetic 60-year-old woman. Her daughter in turn donated her kidney as the last donation in the amazing chain. This last kidney went to an anonymous recipient, the only person in the chain who had no living donor and would have died without this transplant.  


Brilliant! Simply brilliant!


However, the complexity of the logistics is mind-boggling. Just figuring out the mix and match of donors and recipients, then coordinating sixteen surgeries in four hospitals is hard to imagine. Not to mention that there were kidneys flying all over the place. Dr. Montgomery said, "The airspace around Baltimore was full of kidneys."


I have never been more proud to be a part of Johns Hopkins Medicine than I was that day.


While most of the sixteen people involved do not know each other and may never meet, we are forever linked by this amazing event. When I wake each morning I will smile knowing that Robert and seven others have new kidneys, but I will laugh out loud at the sheer wonder that my kidney lives and pees in St. Louis.



Click here to watch more about Pamela's story.

Pamela holds degrees in social work and business administration and is vice president of Human Resources at Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System. In addition, she teaches at Johns Hoptkins and speaks to professional, business, and community groups. In 2004, she was recognized as one of Maryland’s Top 100 Women.