Linda Zimmerman doesn’t like the word “retired.” She’s simply not good at sitting still, the 71-year-old Summerfield resident says. In her so-called “retirement,” she’s spent time as a professor of business and finance at local colleges, worked the polls during election seasons, and mentored job seekers on building resumes, among other activities.
Her most recent endeavor, however, has been searching for a kidney donor since learning she has Stage 5, or end-stage, chronic kidney disease.
“The doctor said spread the word because the more people who are aware, the higher the probability somebody will volunteer,” Zimmerman said.
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Friends and family members have taken to handing out business cards, posting signs on her car, speaking at their churches and spreading the word on social media in search of a match.
“I have spoken a few times at the (Marion County) commissioners mentioning her name and email address, and so far in the last six months only five people have responded,” her neighbor Roger Knechtel said.
At least five volunteers are medically unable to donate
Another neighbor, Eric Hough, was a match for Linda’s O blood type and compatible with other required measures but was ruled out after receiving his annual blood test results.
“I'm 76 years old and in quite good health — at the time — and it turned out my annual physical showed my kidney function was well normal,” Hough said. “Lo and behold, out of the blue, it turns out I have leukemia. I developed leukemia in less than a year, it seems like. Anyway, so cancer knocks you right out of the program.”
Zimmerman’s husband, Dean, also volunteered but was told his eGFR (estimated glomerular filtration rate) was too low.
"We thought all along that I would be kind of the backup if we didn't get somebody pretty quick, so now we're back to square one,” he said.
Another three volunteers were also ruled out for their health. The Zimmermans sent letters to all of their family members and friends explaining the situation.
"A lot of people just didn't respond and have never mentioned it because they don’t know what to say," Zimmerman said. “They don't know what to do, and they're afraid to talk about it, and they don't want me to aggressively approach them to try to get one of their kidneys.”
She says the most important thing is somebody has to want to donate rather than be coerced, and, secondly, they need to be healthy with a high kidney function.
Zimmerman is on the waitlist for a kidney transplant from a deceased donor, which could take five years, and a kidney from a living donor would greatly extend her lifespan. It would also prevent her from going on dialysis, which she will likely have to do soon, though it’s not a cure, only a temporary fix.
Donors have multiple options
There are multiple ways she could receive a kidney from a living donor. She is registered for the transplant at UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville and Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville if she finds a match.
An ideal donor would have a high eGFR, have blood type O, not have diabetes or hypertension, and be between 18 and 50, or older than 50 if hypertension is under control.
Someone could also donate a kidney in her name even if they weren’t a match. Through a paired exchange program, that kidney would go to another patient in need, and Zimmerman would receive a kidney from a different compatible donor.
There are also remote donor programs at some hospitals, where a donor could give a kidney at a location Zimmerman is not listed at, and she would either receive that kidney or another through the voucher program.
Zimmerman’s insurance would pay for the surgery and hospital stay at no cost to the donor.
“I'm trying not to get my hopes up about anybody that says they want to give because I know that it might not happen,” Zimmerman said, noting she’s grateful to those who have tried.
Remaining optimistic and continuing life as usual
Her second cousin, Joyce Palmquist, has been one of Zimmerman’s biggest supporters, even from Michigan.
“I just try to log on to Facebook where there's different group sites, other people who are going through it, and it could be a cartoon or even a funny t-shirt, and I would send that to her because trying times like this, you want to have some smiles on your face too,” Palmquist said.
Zimmerman has no children, and her sibling is unable to donate. Palmquist emphasized their small family has made it hard to find a match.
“Every person deserves a chance to get a kidney,” Palmquist said. “She's not one that wants to advertise too much, but you have to in these situations.”
In between her efforts to find a donor, friends and family say Zimmerman hasn’t let the situation bring her down. She still does yoga three times a week, creates various crafts in her Summerfield neighborhood and goes out to dinner with friends.
Zimmerman’s husband of 40 years, Dean, says his wife has been an optimist.
“I really couldn't have asked for anybody any better than Linda,” he said. "We've just had a really good life as far as I'm concerned — and we want to continue it!”
Zimmerman says anyone who is interested in volunteering should first talk to their doctor about their health and kidney function. More information and paperwork for interested donors can be found online at UF Health’s and Vanderbilt’s websites.
Zimmerman can be reached at 352-575-0060 or KidneyDonor4Linda@gmail.com for more information. A donor coordinator at UF Health Shands can be reached at 352-265-0254 for a confidential conversation.
Contact reporter Danielle Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Ocala Star-Banner: Marion County resident with end-stage kidney disease seeks transplant