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Woman Donates Kidney to Penn State Graduate After Reading StateCollege.com Report

by on September 29, 2014 6:00 AM

When doctors told Susan Crater her husband's health was declining and it was time to find a kidney donor, she did what any wife would do -- she made every effort to find that donor.

First, Susan started a Facebook page sharing her 34-year-old husband Matt's story: Doctors diagnosed Matt, a Penn State graduate, with Chronic Kidney Disorder when he was in his 20's. In 2013, Matt's kidney function dropped and doctors said his best chance for survival was a live donor.

In addition to social media, Susan reached out to news media outlets trying to convince reporters her husband's story was one worth telling. It's the story of true love and the fight for a family. Susan and Matt, of Bellefonte, are the parents of 8-month-old and 2-year-old daughters.

In May, StateCollege.com shared Matt and Susan's story with the Happy Valley community as part of a larger piece about organ donation. The news article quickly became the most read story of the day for the website, receiving more than 17,000 views and more than 1,200 "likes" on Facebook.

But the story doesn't end there.

One of those 17,000 readers was 30-year-old Jessica Hawk who also happens to live in Bellefonte. Hawk says she follows several news sites through Facebook and scrolled across Matt's story.

"Although I am an organ donor it never crossed my mind to be a living donor until I read the story," says Hawk. "It was heartbreaking to think of such a young family losing their husband and father to something I could help prevent."

So Hawk talked it over with her fiancé and did research on living donors before contacting the Transplant Center of the Lehigh Valley, where Matt is a patient, to begin a lengthy testing process.

"Ironically, when I read the story I knew I'd be a match. I just felt it. And when I told my fiancé I had to do all this extensive testing to see if I was a match he said, 'let's be honest we already know you're going to be,'" says Hawk. "It was meant to be and I believe everything happens for a reason."

Hawk was a match. Then, on Sept. 17, both she and Matt underwent successful surgery at Lehigh Valley Hospital. Both are now at home and recovering.

"Now that the surgery is complete I wouldn't change a thing. I'd do it all over again. The minimal discomfort and pain I feel for a small period of time is nothing compared to the gratitude I feel for being able to prolong a man's life," says Hawk. "There are no words really. In the grand scheme of things this is nothing for me, and everything for him. I'm just so happy to be a part of it. I would definitely encourage people to be a living donor. It's a life-changing experience for them and the recipient and it's worth it."

Hawk and the Craters are still essentially strangers. They haven't met yet. But they plan to in the near future, once Matt has recovered from surgery. Matt celebrated his 35th birthday while in the hospital.

"We will be forever thankful to Jess. She gave me the best birthday present I could ever ask for," says Matt.

Susan added, "People always focus on the negative in the world, but there's so much good. Jess was a complete stranger yet saw our Kidney for Crater page through StateCollege.com and decided to help our family. She is one of the truly amazing people out there."

Every 10 minutes someone is added to the national organ transplant list, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, which coordinates organ transplant activities in the United States. Every day, an average of 79 people receive organ transplants and an average of 18 people die waiting for transplants due to the shortage of donated organs.

In Pennsylvania, there are roughly 8,500 patients on the organ transplant waiting list with about 79 percent waiting for a kidney.

According to the National Kidney Registry, which coordinates living organ transplants, there are three types of living kidney donations. A direct donation is when the donor knows the recipient and wants to donate directly to that person, according to the registry. The problem is that often loved ones are not compatible donors.

The second type of kidney donation is a coordinated exchange where a wife wants to donate to her husband, but is not compatible, so instead donates to another patient in need of a kidney. Then, a compatible loved one of that recipient would donate a kidney to the woman's husband.

The third type of kidney donation is a Good Samaritan donation where a person donates their kidney to a stranger. To learn more about becoming a Good Samaritan donor click HERE.

In the case of the Craters, Susan says she could be a potential match, but with two small daughters, the couple decided it would not be best for both of them to undergo major surgery simultaneously. Also, it's possible Matt will need another transplant later in life and Susan may need to be the donor at that point.

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for StateCollege.com. She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government.
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