Kent State Sophomore Interior Design Major Starts School Year by Donating a Kidney to Her Father

Donating a kidney to her father was not how Maggie Martin expected to begin her sophomore year at Kent State University.

But when the Cleveland Clinic cleared her and her father, James “Jamie” Martin, for the surgery, his health took priority over classes.

Preparing for Surgery

Ms. Martin, 19, started her school year Aug. 23 by explaining to her professors that she was having surgery the following day to donate a kidney to her father.

“Everyone was really nice,” says the interior design major from Stow. “Especially in this college, they are very helpful and understanding.”

Ms. Martin, however, did not allow the procedure to put too big of a delay on her school year. She came home from the hospital on Aug. 27 and was back in class four days later.

Doctors told Ms. Martin she could return to her normal schedule as soon as she felt up to it, and she feared getting too far behind in a semester when she is packing in 18 credit hours and six classes, so Ms. Martin headed back to class just one week after the surgery.

“I’m feeling sore,” she said that day. “That’s my biggest issue right now is just being sore.”

The discomfort, though, was well worth the benefit of knowing that she spared her father potentially years of ill health while he waited for a matching donor kidney.

“It can take four to six years to find a donated organ,” she explains.

James Martin had been in kidney failure for the past 10 years. Last fall, however, his kidney function began to decline significantly, making him a candidate for a transplant.

“I want my dad around for the rest of my life,” she says. “I have two kidneys. Why should I not (donate)?”

Donating a Kidney

Kidney donation was not something new to the Martin family. Ms. Martin’s maternal grandfather received a kidney from his brother after chemotherapy to treat cancer damaged his kidneys.

Ms. Martin’s parents said they were not surprised when Maggie announced she wanted to give her father a kidney.

“She has always been very kind and considerate and puts everyone else first beyond her own needs,” says her mother, Nancy Martin.

Because Mrs. Martin works days as a third-grade teacher at St. Joseph Catholic School in Cuyahoga Falls, and Mr. Martin works nights at Yellow Roadway Corp. in Richfield, Ms. Martin and her mother spend many evenings alone together. It was on one of those nights when Ms. Martin told her mother that she wanted to be her dad’s donor.

Making the Decision

Ms. Martin said her father felt ill and tired all of the time.

“He would just be so exhausted,” she says. “I hated seeing him that way, and I think that was my motivation to not be afraid.”

Nancy Martin said she was a bit apprehensive at first, thinking that her then 18-year-old daughter should be more concerned with her studies and adjusting to being a freshman in college. Ms. Martin, however, already had done her research and understood the long wait for a kidney her dad was facing.

“She said, ‘If I don’t do this, dad will die,’” Mrs. Martin says. “She really puts her family first.”

Mrs. Martin had wanted to donate but some pre-existing health issues prevented her from being a donor. Cousins who wanted to donate also were not good candidates due to health issues. Being young and healthy made Ms. Martin an excellent candidate.

“I don’t know if I want to say I was excited, but I was just like, ‘I really want to do this,’” Ms. Martin says. “So I think just the fact that knowing it was going to help my dad feel better made it better for me.”

Kidney donors must pass a series of stringent health examinations and tests to make sure they are healthy enough to donate an organ. By the spring of this year, Ms. Martin had started the process of becoming a live kidney donor. A transplant coordinator oversees the process in conjunction with a social worker, doctors and surgeons. The final step was presenting the case to the hospital’s board that oversees transplants, which granted its approval to the surgery at the end of July.

While she was hoping the surgery would be over before school started, the procedures were slated for Aug. 24.

At the Cleveland Clinic, Alvin Wee, M.D., first removed Ms. Martin’s kidney, working in tandem with Venkatesh Krishnamurthi, M.D., who transplanted it into her father. Her kidney began working in her father immediately, producing urine – the best sign that the transplant was successful.

“I gave him a good one,” she says.

Nancy Martin said having her husband and daughter in surgery at the same time was nerve-wracking, and she was afraid for both.

“Being our only child, she is our world,” Mrs. Martin says.

REcovering After Surgery

Ms. Martin found out after surgery that the Cleveland Clinic gives organ donors the royal treatment, and she recuperated for three days in a private suite normally reserved for sports figures, celebrities and visiting royalty.

The experience, she says, was something she would recommend to others who have a kidney to spare.

“It’s just a cool experience,” she says. “Being an organ donor and registering to be an organ donor is something that people should really do.”

While his recovery will take longer than his daughter’s four days, Mr. Martin said he is getting a bit stronger every day.

“I am still a little sore, but I walk a couple of laps around the neighborhood every day, and I try to eat the proper foods and take my meds,” he says. He expects to return to work in December.

Having Faith and Finding Purpose

Ms. Martin, a 2017 graduate of Stow-Munroe Falls High School, said her family’s strong faith helped them through the situation.  

An only child, Ms. Martin said her parents were not even sure they would have children.

“I think maybe this is my purpose,” she says. “I think God knew what he was doing, so I was put here to help my dad.”