PITTSBURGH (AP) — As a kidney doctor for nearly two decades, Rita McGill has watched thousands of patients struggle on dialysis.
Something kept telling her she should donate one of her own healthy kidneys to help someone out of their misery.
"Surely we have enough kidneys in this world to do better than have a quarter million people on dialysis," said McGill of Indiana Township.
On Tuesday, the longtime nephrologist underwent surgery in Allegheny General Hospital, where she works, and donated one of her kidneys to a man she'd met just weeks before. She hopes to go home on Saturday, thrilled that the young recipient no longer will have to undergo dialysis three times a week.
"I wasn't prepared for how incredibly happy I would feel," said McGill, 54, sitting in a bed in the same hospital where she often cares for patients. "I'm hoping the news gets out that this surgery isn't that big a deal. It feels fantastic to liberate someone from dialysis."
In a room around the corner, recipient Dan Case of New Castle called McGill his guardian angel.
"She's just a blessing in my life," said Case, 33, who sat on a recliner as he spoke. He expects to be discharged in a few days.
Altruistic donations such as McGill's are uncommon. Only 177 of the 5,987 kidney transplants in 2013 were done using anonymous donors, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. Only six of the 177 took place in Pennsylvania.
"Oh, wow," UNOS spokeswoman Anne Paschke said when told about McGill's case. The agency does not collect data on the professions of donors. "It's rare. But people in helping professions are drawn to helping people." Doctors diagnosed Case with kidney disease when he was 24. The illness, called IgA nephropathy, slowly destroyed his kidney function and forced him to begin dialysis, a procedure to filter the blood, which he described as physically draining. Each dialysis procedure takes about three hours.
"The difference of how I feel now is night and day. I feel 20 years younger. Getting this kidney is like I got a jolt of a fountain of youth," said Case, who hopes to become a pastor and study computer science.
McGill said she made up her mind about becoming a donor during a 2013 gala sponsored by the National Kidney Foundation, which honored her work with a Gift of Life Award. She felt fortunate to be so healthy in a room where others shared stories of people struggling with kidney disease. The thought of becoming a donor overwhelmed her to the point that, after giving her acceptance speech, she walked away from the podium without her award.
"She's a very giving and brave person," said Dr. Suresh Kumar, medical director for kidney and pancreas transplantation at AGH. "She just wanted to help someone. It's incredible." McGill, who has two grown daughters, waited several months to begin the screening process to make sure her wish to become a donor wasn't an impulsive decision. She moved forward, eager to do something about the more than 100,000 people on the national kidney waiting list.
Her only requirement was that the person who received her kidney would be young. An older recipient, she reasoned, wouldn't get as much use from her kidney, which she estimated could last 30 years.
McGill's next project is to train for a marathon. She did it twice before but wants to prove to others that she can run with one kidney — and show that a donor can have a normal life.
She is particularly pleased with Case's quick recovery. The two have become friends who share the ins and outs of hospitalization.
"It's amazing how that kidney settled in and jump-started his life," she said. "I'm very proud of that kidney."
Information from: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, http://pghtrib.com