Time was of the essence for Jill Buckeye. Her kidneys were failing, and she had been seeking a transplant donor for three years.
A diabetic since childhood, Jill had been able to control the disease for most of her life, through medication, diet and frequent check-ups. However, her kidneys began to fail in 2019, requiring her to get blood drawn weekly so her glomerular filtration rate (GFR) – a key indicator of kidney function -- could be frequently measured.
Week after week, Jill would drop by Cleveland Clinic Twinsburg Family Health & Surgery Center where phlebotomy technician Jaylin Chadwell would often collect her blood. “Most of the time, you draw three to five tubes (of blood) from a patient,” explains Jaylin, who has worked at Cleveland Clinic for about one year. “When Jill would come in it would be like 13 tubes every time. One day, I asked her, ‘Why am I taking so much blood?’”
Jill said she was awaiting a kidney transplant. Many of her friends volunteered to donate. So, too, did her husband. However, none were able to become donor candidates. As Jill and Jaylin’s conversation progressed, Jill discovered she and Jaylin had the same blood type. She jokingly asked if Jaylin wanted to donate her kidney. Jaylin’s answer stunned Jill. She stated, matter-of-factly, “Yes, I do.”
Jill (left) and Jaylin (right) celebrating their successful transplant procedures. (Courtesy: Jill Buckeye)
Since she was 12 years old, Jaylin has talked about doing something to save a life. She believes her passion for organ donation was inspired in part by her grandfather, who died of kidney cancer several years ago. She felt helpless no one could save him.
“I just knew I was going to be a donor someday. If I could do it, and was medically cleared, I would do it,” notes Jaylin.
Jill texted Jaylin a website link to a Cleveland Clinic kidney donation page. From there, the process began. After completing the necessary paperwork, and undergoing a battery of tests, Jaylin received the good news. She and Jill were a match.
Jill remained stunned by Jaylin’s commitment and determination. “At first, I thought she was 28, but she’s the most mature 22 year old I’ve ever met,” marvels Jill. “And what person, at just age 12, thinks about being an organ donor? Jaylin amazes me.”
For Jaylin’s procedure, her surgeon, Alvin Wee, MD, Director of Cleveland Clinic's Kidney Transplant Program, was able to use a laparoscopic technique that limited the size and number of the incisions needed to remove her kidney. Jaylin – despite bouts of post-surgery nausea due to her reaction to pain medication – was feeling fine in two days.
Jill and Jaylin with members of their Cleveland Clinic care team. (left to right) Joshua Augustine, MD, Jill, Mohamed Eltemamy, MD, Jaylin, and Alvin, Wee, MD. (Courtesy: Cleveland Clinic)
Jaylin shrugged off the minor discomforts she experienced. “A couple days of pain, after surgery, mean nothing. Once you’re out of the hospital, it’s a distant memory. It’s an awesome feeling, like nothing else, to give someone this incredible gift of life.”
Mohamed Eltemamy, MD, urologist and transplant surgeon who performed Jill’s procedure, had to make some surgical modifications to reconstruct some of her blood vessels, to enable the kidney from Jaylin to adapt to her body. He did so using third-party vessel grafts from a deceased donor.
“Being diabetic for so long hardened some of Jill’s blood vessels. Combined with the complexity of Jaylin’s kidney, the surgery was a little more complicated,” explains Dr. Wee. “Overall, both women are doing well, and we’re fortunate to witness such a selfless, lifesaving act.”
Jill, who is no longer swollen from fluid retention and who feels more energetic than she has in years, considers Jaylin to be a part of her family now. “I’m doing very well. I have a super kidney from Jaylin. It’s working wonderfully and will keep me forever young!”
Glickman Urological & Kidney Institute