The Gift of a Lifetime

March/April 2009

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The Gift of a Lifetime

Courtesy Kim Laughton

A few weeks after doctors told Melinda Myers Cook she would need a kidney donation, she sat down to write “the hardest letter of my life.” In it, Cook, ’85, described her battle with polycystic kidney disease, a genetic disorder that she had suffered from for 20 years and that often leads to kidney failure. Unable to find a suitable kidney in her own family, she was contacting 40 friends—some of whom had no idea that she was ill—asking them to consider becoming a living donor.

That’s when Kim Laughton, ’85, Cook’s junior-year roommate in Robinson House, and her husband, Steve Maupin, stepped in. Both underwent extensive testing and interviews at Stanford Hospital and “agreed to let the best kidney win.” In February 2008 Maupin was cleared for donation—in addition to having a compatible blood type, 80 percent of his kidney tissue proteins matched Cook’s, indicating a good chance that the transplant would be successful. Maupin describes the decision to go ahead with the surgery as nearly instinctual. “Melinda is the type of person who always remembers everyone’s birthday,” he says. “She’s the nicest person you’ll ever meet, and anyone who knows her would have done the same thing I did, given the opportunity.”

In March 2008, Cook had both of her kidneys removed in preparation for surgery and spent months receiving outpatient dialysis treatments several times a week. Then, in September, she and Maupin entered the hospital, where one of his kidneys was successfully transplanted into her body. Maupin left the hospital after Cook due to a rare surgical complication that affected his small intestine, a condition from which he has since recovered. “I just went skiing, and I did a cartwheel in the doctor’s office,” he says. “So I think I’m doing just fine.”

Prior to the transplant, Cook had little energy and struggled through her everyday routine. At a Dollie reunion in 2007, she was barely able to perform “All Right Now.” But the day after surgery, she could feel her health improving and her husband noted an immediate and positive change in her skin color. Although she must religiously take antirejection medication and regularly monitor her weight and blood pressure, Cook has been able to return to work full time as a sales development manager for Hewlett Packard in addition to raising her two active children. “The difference between a year ago and how I feel now is night and day,” she says tearfully. “I feel thankful. I feel guilty. I feel overwhelmed. Steve is such a wonderful man and I am so lucky.”

“Organ donation is a life-expanding process for everyone involved,” says Maupin. “For everyone out there who is thinking about becoming a donor, I say, ‘Just do it.’”

MARIE C. BACA is Class of ’06.

© Stanford University. Stanford, California 94305.