Emily McIntire recently met the love of her life after donating one of her kidneys. She got in touch with the transplant patient after the operation and now the two are planning on getting married.
McIntire is a nurse who works with patients on dialysis. They usually suffer from kidney problems and need to be hooked up to a machine at home three to seven times a week for at least two hours. She said the process can be grueling. It is her job to teach them how to run the treatment, which can take months.
One of her first patients was a man in his 60s with so many plans for the future, but he didn’t get to live them because he died of kidney disease a short while later. But that inspired McIntire to donate one of her kidneys to someone in need.
“I started focusing on my own health, getting into shape while considering a major surgery,” she wrote for Insider. “Then, a few years after my first patient died, I started caring for Jeff. We bonded over the fact that he was scared of needles — which is not great for a dialysis patient. At one point, he had a living donor. When that fell through, I saw how devastated he was.”
That’s when she decided to donate her kidney to Jeff. But she talked to her employer first to make sure there was no conflict of interest because he was her patient.
“When they gave me the OK, I contacted Jeff’s transplant team. I passed all the physical tests and was even a blood and tissue match for Jeff,” she explained. “Meanwhile, he had no idea I was the person donating — he was just told an anonymous donor came forward. I wanted to do this whole thing with as little fuss as possible.”
But the operation hit a snag at the last minute. The doctor was worried that Jeff was too large for McIntire’s kidney, so they decided to find a paired donation instead. This is when two donors agree to give their organs to the other person’s intended recipient, so both patients can find a good match.
McIntire’s kidney went to someone on the National Organ Transplant waiting list, which currently has some 100,000 people on it. She later found out it went to a 21-year-old with lupus. Meanwhile, another donor gave their kidney to Jeff.
“Even after the surgery, Jeff didn’t know I had donated,” she said. “But the kidney doctor I worked under urged me to share my story. When the hospital asked if we’d be interested in meeting, I said yes, and so did Jeff.”
They arranged to have Jeff meet with the kidney donor over Zoom, but he was shocked to see McIntire on the screen. It took him a few seconds to figure out that she was the one who donated a kidney, so that he could get someone else’s.
But that was only the beginning of their relationship.
“That was the last time Jeff and I were speechless around each other. After that Zoom call we met for coffee, and we haven’t stopped talking since,” McIntire said. “We hike together often, something Jeff loves but wasn’t able to do when he was in kidney failure. About 15 months after the transplant, we got engaged. We’re getting married in October.”
She said her story may sound like a romantic comedy on Netflix, but that anyone can donate an organ to someone in need if they meet the right criteria. She added that she would like to see more people donating kidneys.
But the sacrifice took a toll on her finances. She was out of work for five weeks after the operation. “I was on short-term disability and had to pay for my own benefit costs for those weeks,” she said. “Family helped me get through. Now I work for Strive Health, a kidney care provider that tries to reach people before they need dialysis. Strive gives all employees eight weeks of paid leave if they become a living donor. That would have been a game changer for me, and more policies like these could save lives by making donations easier.”