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Chance encounter turns into life-saving donation

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 12 2011 3:32 p.m. MDT

Kalynn Olsen helps Tim McKissen while working at Spanky's Deli in Bountiful on Monday, Oct. 10, 2011.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

BOUNTIFUL — On a cold February afternoon, Kalynn Olsen was making a sandwich for a customer at Spanky’s Deli in Bountiful when she mentioned in passing that she was recently told she needed a kidney transplant.

The woman she was making the sandwich for immediately quipped, “Oh! Let me give you my kidney.”

Just that quickly, a bond between two strangers in a sandwich shop was formed. Next week, that bond will be solidified when Olsen becomes the recipient of Heather Hansen’s kidney.

“I have two. I only need one,” said Hansen, who was once a contestant on the reality show, "The Biggest Loser."

“She really wanted to help someone,” Olsen said of her donor.

Olsen was diagnosed with Type I diabetes three decades ago. Since then, the chronic disease that restricts the body’s ability to use and store glucose has taken its toll on Olsen’s health.

“I see it in her day by day. She needs that kidney,” said Paul Olsen, Kalynn’s husband.

In February, Kalynn was ushered into a doctor’s office and told she needed a transplant. “She (the doctor) didn’t lead me into it at all. She just bluntly told me,” Kalynn Olsen recalled.

The news came on top of more bad news when her husband was laid off from work and the couple worried about how they were going to pay for such an operation.  

Fortunately, her husband’s employer was aware of Kalynn’s medical condition and allowed her to remain on the company’s insurance plan, though the rest of the family was dropped. “We were lucky,” Paul Olsen said.  

More good fortune followed when Hansen continued to insist on getting tested to see if she was a donor match. And when the tests came back, it was shocking. “She was the first person to be tested and she was a match,” Kalynn Olsen said.

“When I found out that she found a donor. Wow!” Paul Olsen said. “It was an eye-opener. That was amazing. It changed our lives immensely — and a complete stranger!”

Generally, those in need of a kidney transplants wait for three to five years. And the number of people waiting is quite large.

According to the Organ Procurement Transplantation Network, there are 351 Utahns waiting for a kidney transplant. There are 96,005 people waiting nationwide for a kidney donation.

E-mail: lprichard@ksl.com

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