New Year, New Life: Record-Breaking Live Donor Gifts Best Friend a Healthy Kidney

Oprah and Gayle. Tina and Amy. Matt and Ben. These famous best friends have defined the hashtag #SquadGoals for years. Until we met Chané and Stephenie – the 36-year-old who gifted her most precious friend with the promise of a new life in 2017 – a healthy kidney.

The procedure, which took place at Methodist Specialty and Transplant Hospital, made history as the 200th live donor kidney transplant performed in 2016 at the HCA-affiliated hospital. It also earned the greatest number of live donor kidney transplants ever completed in a single year at any transplant center in the United States, according to hospital officials.

A gift of a friend’s love

Since 2007, Chané Gildon, a single mom of two teenage girls from Odessa, Texas, battled kidney disease with ever-stronger drugs. Stephenie Gardiner, her best friend, watched her friend’s energy and health steadily decline. In September of 2016, Chané’s nephrologist told her it was time to choose: dialysis for the rest of her life or a kidney transplant.

The prospect of dialysis three-to-four times a week, for an estimated four hours per treatment, did not fit into the life Chané knew she wanted for herself and her daughters. She chose to pursue a transplant, and per her doctor’s advice, sought a living kidney donor. But it was not easy.

After her mother and brother were tested in September and found to be incompatible, Chané told Stephenie the devastating news, seeking only solace from her best friend. Instead, Stephenie offered her a kidney. In late November, Stephenie was tested and deemed a match. 

“Initially, I had concerns about my own health with only one kidney.” said Stephenie, a Missouri mother of three.  “But I couldn’t stand to see Chané growing weaker and suffering. So I trusted my faith and knew I was meant to do this.”

Through tears, Stephenie said to Chané, “You are my best friend that I’ve ever had, ever-ever.  Why would you not do that for somebody?”

On December 23, a few days after Chané’s 40th birthday, the live donor kidney transplant took place.

A program of commitment, caring, and innovation

The kidney transplant program at Methodist Specialty and Transplant Hospital began in 1984 and expanded with the opening of the Texas Transplant Institute in 1999. Since 2008, the program has focused on shortening the time patients spend on the transplant waiting list by opening access to underserved Texas markets and by generating awareness of the value of live kidney donation.

One of the key surgeons driving the growth of the program through its Living Donor Exchange is Dr. Adam Bingaman, Director of Abdominal Organ Transplantation. But as noted by Chief of Staff and Transplant Medical Director Dr. Matthias Kapturczak, a transplant nephrologist and key member of the multi-disciplinary transplant team who deals closely with both recipients and donors: “It is the courageous and generous living donors who are essential; without them, there is no program.”

What’s next? Life!

When asked what was next for her, Chané Gildon did not hesitate in responding, “LIFE!” Her best friend, Stephenie Gardiner, agreed. “We’re going to do things now that we haven’t been able to do.” She also added that the transplanted kidney covers all future birthday and Christmas gifts for her friend – who grinned from ear-to-ear as she nodded and wiped away a tear.

It happens sometimes. “Friends come in and out of your life like busboys in a restaurant,” to quote the movie Stand By Me. But true friendship is the stuff of legend. And if you’re lucky, you’ll find a kinship like Chané and Stephenie – the definition of #SquadGoals.

Meet Chané and Stephenie pre-op and Dr. Matthias Kapturczak in the video below:

HCA internal audience can view video here.

With 100,000 people in the United States on the waiting list for a kidney transplant, only 12,500 annually receive a kidney while 5,000 die and 3,000 grow too weak for the operation. Another 400,000 never make it to a waiting list and continue on dialysis, with an average life expectancy of five years versus 12 to 20 years for a kidney transplanted from a living donor.

A campus of Methodist Hospital, Methodist Specialty and Transplant Hospital is located in San Antonio, Texas, in the heart of the South Texas Medical Center. Its kidney transplant program is the largest in Texas, ranked among the top centers nationally, and recognized for its expertise in live donor kidney transplants from unrelated donors