Jessie Estabrook (left) stands behind Dennis Salazar, to whom she donated a kidney. Lenora Salazar (right), Dennis’ wife, was able to donate a kidney to Evergreen Park resident Kenneth Dowdell (seated at right). The operations took place at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn.
From staff reports
Jessie Estabrook, a single mother living in Tucson, Ariz., heard about Kenneth Dowdell, a neighbor’s brother-in-law from Evergreen Park, who was on dialysis for five years and in urgent need of a new kidney.
She decided to perform an act of generosity and donate one of her two kidneys to Dowdell. After preliminary testing, it was determined Estabrook wasn’t a match for him, but the story does not end there.
In Plainfield, Dennis Salazar, a grandfather of two girls, was going to be put on the kidney transplant recipient waiting list. His wife, Lenora, had been tested but was not a donor match. Once the Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn transplant team reviewed both Dowdell’s and Salazar’s’ cases, they determined Estabrook and Lenora Salazar, while not a match for Kenneth and Dennis, respectively, were instead each a match for the other recipient.
Both Estabrook and Lenora said yes to saving strangers’ lives by donating one of their kidneys.
“I have always done whatever I can to help others, but what really made me do it was my father passing away recently,” Estabrook said. “My mother wanted to donate her kidney to Kenneth in honor of my dad but wasn’t able to do so quickly due to donation requirements. So, I decided to donate my kidney in honor of my dad. If I could have saved my dad with an organ donation, I would have. Knowing that I was able to help save not only one life but two and they can live full, healthy lives with their families is truly what makes it worth it to me.”
Kenneth and Dennis said their families had been praying that God would bless them with a healthy kidney. On Sept. 11, Jessie, Kenneth, Dennis and Lenora all successfully underwent kidney transplant surgery.
“Donating to a complete stranger is remarkable,” said Dr. Douglas Slakey, one of the surgeons who performed the transplants at Advocate Christ Medical Center. “Lenora and Jessie are one of the few what we call altruistic kidney donors. This kind of donation means a living donor gives their organ to someone they have never even met. It takes a special person to do this and it is truly an amazing gift.”
“I told Dennis I would rather have one kidney and you by my side then two kidneys and not you,” said Lenora. “When I found out I could help someone else it was a win-win for me.”
More than 6,000 living donations take place every year, according to organdonor.com. That is 40 percent of all organ donations. Healthy living individuals can donate one of their two kidneys, one of two lobes of their liver, a lung or part of a lung, part of the pancreas or part of the intestines. Living donors can also donate tissue and bone marrow.
“There are benefits to receiving an organ donation from a living donor instead of a deceased donor, including the ability to plan the timing of the surgery better and ensure the organ comes from a healthy donor,” said Dr. Deepak Mital, kidney transplant surgeon at Advocate Christ Medical Center. “Patients can spend many years waiting for an organ from a deceased donor. It’s important for people to know they have options to donate and can save other lives while they are still living a healthy life.”
“It’s pretty overwhelming to experience this act of love and generosity from Jessie,” said Dennis. “I could have spent years sick on dialysis like many other people waiting for a new kidney, but because of her gift I’m able to get back to living my life with my family.”
“God works in amazing ways and brought us all together for this miracle,” Dowdell said.
All of the donors are now home and recovering.
Advocate Christ Medical Center is the only kidney transplant program in the south and southwest suburbs providing improved access to transplantation services patients who might otherwise have to travel to downtown Chicago or out-of-state for treatment and follow-up care.