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Samantha D The Gift of Life: Young Woman Donates Her Kidney to a Child

“My life is back to normal, but I got to give a little boy the chance to live a full life.”

When Samantha Donnelly was in high school, one of her classmates needed a kidney transplant. “I wanted to donate one of my kidneys to her, but when I applied I was told I was too young,” recalls Samantha, now 22.

Undeterred, she decided she would wait until she reached the legal age for kidney donation, which is 21 in the U.S.

In 2018, Samantha applied to be a kidney donor at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) New Brunswick, where she works as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) with the RWJUH Mobile Health Service and is pursuing a nursing degree.

Meanwhile, 4-year-old Aden Supe was struggling with a rare genetic kidney disorder. His RWJUH physicians warned his parents, Marco and Mayra, that kidney failure was imminent. In 2018, he was placed on dialysis, which performs the functions of the kidneys.

“It was hard to see our son suffering,” recalls Marco. “He had no appetite and wasn’t growing, and the dialysis left him so exhausted he couldn’t go to preschool.”

Then, last spring, the Supes received exciting news. RWJUH had identified a donor: Samantha, who had a matching blood type. For Marco and Mayra, it was a dream come true.

“There were a few potential donors before Samantha, but they always fell through,” says Marco.

The surgery was scheduled for June 25. On the day of the operation, Samantha and Aden were wheeled into their respective operating rooms. Samantha was surrounded by her mother and boyfriend, Aden by his parents.

It took two hours for Ronald Pelletier, MD, a transplant surgeon and Program Director at the Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Center at RWJUH, to remove Samantha’s kidney. It took four hours for Advaith Bongu, MD, a transplant surgeon and Dr. Pelletier’s colleague, to place Samantha’s kidney in Aden.

Samantha stayed in the hospital for two days before being discharged to recuperate at home. Although she was up and walking around fairly quickly, she couldn’t drive for two weeks and had to be out of work for six, since her job as an EMT requires heavy lifting. Aden also tolerated the procedure well.

“The first thing he said when he saw my team was that he wanted some waffles,” recalls Dr. Bongu. “That’s when we all knew he would be fine.”

Over the summer, Aden’s appetite returned, he started growing again, and he had more energy for school and other activities. The transplanted organ will last for 10 to 15 years, then he’ll have to go through the process again. “For now, we’re enjoying the fact that our son has his health back,” says Marco.

Four-year-old Aden Supe has regained his health thanks to a kidney from Samantha Donnelly, an RWJUH employee.Samantha and Aden were able to meet about six weeks after the surgery, when they were at the hospital for follow-up appointments. It was an overwhelming moment for both—especially Aden, who became shy and hid behind his parents.

“It was so great to see him and put a face to the person I donated to,” says Samantha, who now keeps up with him through his mom’s Facebook account.

Mayra recently posted: “I want to thank God for sending this angel into my life. Samantha, we’re really thankful for everything you did for our son. God bless you forever.”

Samantha and Aden’s parents rave about the care at RWJUH.

“Dr. Pelletier did an excellent job of explaining the procedure and allaying my fears,” says Samantha.

Similarly, Marco says, “The hospital staff went out of their way to reassure Aden before and after the surgery.”

For the surgeons, this transplant is especially memorable. Says Dr. Pelletier: “I’ve performed many kidney donations over the years, but this one moved me the most. Samantha performed a selfless act for a young child; she saved Aden’s life.”

For Samantha, seeing Aden made her sacrifice worthwhile. “My life is back to normal, but I got to give a little boy the chance to live a full life,” she says.

Learn more about living kidney donation at RWJUH.