HIDDEN HEROES: UAB Kidney Donation Chain Reaches 100 Surgeries

Hidden Heroes
October 02 2021 06:00 pm

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – Mark Graybeal wanted to give his beloved wife, Barbara, one of his kidneys.  She had been on dialysis for two years–and their lives were ruled by her treatments.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t a tissue match for her.  However, the couple of 36 years maintained their optimism–thanks to an amazing program at UAB’s Kidney Clinic. 

“I had already signed the papers,” Mark explained.  “They immediately put her on a list.”

Mark, essentially, had volunteered to give his kidney to a stranger–in hopes that someone else who had volunteered their kidney would be a match for Barbara.  That’s what the ‘incompatible kidney transplant program’ at UAB does. 

In December 2013, a Pelham woman named Paula King had approached UAB about donating her kidney.  She didn’t have a recipient in mind.  She is an example of what the program calls an altruistic donor.  She’s actually not the only one, either.  UAB reports 18 altruistic donors are part of the chain.

King’s actions had a chain reaction.  She became the first link in what has now become the nation’s longest single-site kidney transplant chain.  The chain now includes people from 12 states with over 100 people benefiting.  Barbara Graybeal is the 99th recipient.  Her husband Mark is now the 100th donor. 

“His coordinator called, and that’s about all that he [Mark] could tell me because he’s Mr. Tender Heart,” Barbara recalled.  “We didn’t talk a whole lot after that.  We both sat down on the bed and hugged and cried for awhile.  I can still see it like it was yesterday.”

Many of the kidney transplants have been the result of relationships like the Graybeal’s–where a family member or friend of the transplant recipient donates a kidney in honor of them.  Mark told CBS 42 that he didn’t hesitate when deciding to donate his kidney to someone he didn’t even know.

“It’s as if I had given it to her [Barbara],” he explained through tears. 

Now the couple is planning a move.  They are hoping to get closure to their sons–and say they have their fingers crossed for more grandchildren.

As for UAB’s kidney transplant chain, there is no end in sight.  There are still 2,300 people on the wait list for a kidney here in Alabama, alone.

To learn more about the chain–or if you are interested in the possibility of becoming a living organ donor, click here.

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