NEWS | August 7, 2017

For one couple, giving life extends beyond family

Husband and wife are both nondirected kidney donors

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.)

Kidney donor Missy Ewing had the chance to meet her organ recipient for the first time at a recent UC Davis Transplant Center celebration.

Kidney transplant recipient Rolando Bercasio had the opportunity to meet and thank his organ donor, Missy Ewing, at a special celebration. Ewing's husband also was a Kidney transplant recipient Rolando Bercasio had the opportunity to meet and thank his organ donor, Missy Ewing, at a special celebration. Ewing's husband also was a "good Samaritan" kidney donor in 2014.

It was the second lifesaving act of generosity for the Ewing family. Her husband, Chris, became a kidney donor three years ago and launched a series of organ swaps between unmatched donor-recipient pairs that led to four people getting transplants (read the press release). Seeing the happiness among the eight donors and recipients at a meet-and-greet event was an inspiration to Missy.

“I sat there that day and said, ‘I gotta do this,’” she said. “I’ve always told my children that it is important to share when you can, and I had an extra kidney that someone else really needed.”

At her own meet-and-greet event, Missy, her husband and two of their three children were introduced to Rolando Bercasio, his wife and their five children.

Bercasio had been on dialysis for end-stage renal disease for over three years when, during a high school graduation ceremony for one of his children, he got the call that he needed to have blood tests right away to confirm he was a match for a kidney from a living donor whom he had never met.

“I had just assumed it would never happen,” Bercasio said.

Being less-than-hopeful was understandable, as two previous transplant opportunities had fallen through. The statistics also were not in Bercasio’s favor. There are more than 100,000 people on kidney transplant waitlists but only about 17,000 kidney transplant surgeries in the U.S. each year. About a third of those surgeries involve living donor kidneys, which have several health advantages beyond deceased donor kidneys. Even more rare — about 3 percent — are kidney transplant surgeries due to nondirected (or “good Samaritan”) living donors like the Ewings, who don’t have specific recipients in mind.

On June 6, however, Bercasio had kidney transplant surgery, with Missy having her donor surgery earlier that day. On July 25, he greeted her for the first time with a hug and said, “There are so many things I want to thank you for; you gave back life to me.”

Now, for the first time in a long time, he is making future plans.

“I’ve always wanted to teach,” said Bercasio, a Bay Area dentist. “It seems like a great time to make that change.”

There are nearly 1,200 people on the waiting list for donor kidneys at UC Davis, which has the highest volume kidney transplant program in the nation. More information about becoming a donor is available on the transplant center website and through Sierra Donor Services.