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Bountiful woman finally gets kidney transplant

Published: Monday, Aug. 31 2015 5:38 a.m. MDT

Kidney transplant recipient Alan Segal, left, calls Mike Graham, his kidney donor, right, Kidney transplant recipient Alan Segal, left, calls Mike Graham, his kidney donor, right, "one of God's angels." (Associated Press)

SALT LAKE CITY — Kalynn Olsen is crying tears of joy these days. She finally got her kidney transplant, but not exactly how she was expecting it.

In October she was to receive a kidney donation from Heather Hansen, a customer at her sandwich shop. But her hopes were dashed when a last-minute test showed the two were not a match.

So Olsen was entered into the paired exchange program in which her donor would give her kidney to one person and another person would give their kidney to Olsen. It created a chain of donations that will result in an estimated 20 people receiving a transplant.

The director of the University of Utah Medical Center’s Solid Organ Transplant Program, Christine Miller, said about 45 percent of the hospital's kidney transplants are from living donors. She said Olsen's transplant was part of a chain that will affect so many others.

Kalynn Olsen, a kidney transplant recipient, talks with Dr. Sophia Yi at University of Utah Health Care in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011.  (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Kalynn Olsen, a kidney transplant recipient, talks with Dr. Sophia Yi at University of Utah Health Care in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

"They have what's called daisy chains where donor might donate to recipient Z, then, donor H might donate to recipient L,” she said. “What that elegant system allows for is to really find the best-matched kidney."

Olsen has been living with Type 1 diabetes for 30 years. Earlier this year, she was told her kidneys were functioning at 11 percent and it was time for a transplant.

Hansen, a frequent customer at the Bountiful sandwich shop where Olsen works, came forward to offer Olsen her kidney. But when that plan fell through, Hansen still wanted to donate her kidney and offered to enter the paired exchange program with Olsen.

"It's a blessing in disguise," Hansen said on Oct. 17. "There's going to be somebody sitting at home and the phone is going to ring and they're going to say, 'Guess what? We've got a kidney for you.' It's an absolute double blessing."

Kalynn Olsen, a kidney transplant recipient, is emotional as she talks about her donor from her room at University of Utah Health Care in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011.  (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Kalynn Olsen, a kidney transplant recipient, is emotional as she talks about her donor from her room at University of Utah Health Care in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

And that's exactly what happened on Friday. Olsen received a healthy kidney from a living donor in Wisconsin. Hansen's kidney donation will go to someone in California. Her surgery is scheduled for Thursday.

“Everybody calls me a cheesehead now because it’s from Wisconsin,” Olsen said while laughing.

Just four days after her surgery, Olsen says she can feel the difference.

“I feel like I could just get up and run around these halls,” she said.

 In fact, she is feeling so well, she was expected to go home Wednesday.

"It gives me a whole new prospect on life right now,” she said. “I have a whole new beginning. It's a fresh start."

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company