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Fond du Lac County woman donates kidney to stranger in Massachusetts

Updated: May. 17, 2021 at 4:30 PM CDT
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FOND DU LAC, Wis. (WBAY) - Inspired by stories she heard about live organ donation, a Fond du Lac County woman signed up to donate a kidney. Twenty-four hours after registering, she got the call and now she’s finally meeting donation recipient.

Maranda Abitz always knew she wanted to be an organ donor, she just never considered being a live donor until the Spring of 2019. According to Abitz, “Sitting there listening to the whole panel of donors and recipients and just getting more information about that just really lit something inside of me.

By October of that year, Abitz was approved to be a donor and within 24 hours of being on the National Kidney Registry, she was matched with a recipient. “All they could tell me was my person was 40 to 50 years old, in Massachusetts, and somebody very hard to match with,” says Abitz.

That somebody was Travis Conway, a complete stranger. A donor kidney he’d received years earlier from a cousin, following a heart transplant as a teenager, was failing. “My immune system built an immunity to tissue types,” says Conway. Adding, “So, I had these antibodies that weren’t going to like certain tissue types and certain sequences of tissue types in kidneys, so I only matched with about 8% of kidneys out there.”

On November 21, 2019, doctors in Madison removed Abitz’s kidney and it was flown to Boston, MA where it was transplanted into Conway. Neither donor, nor recipient knew anything about the other person, post surgery, other than they were both doing well. The two eventually connecting the dots to each other on social media.

“Found her on Facebook and was sending a friend request thinking I don’t know if I should do this, she’s going to think I’m some weird internet stalker or something like that and I said I need to reach out, I need to at least see if this is her and connect,” says Conway.

Abitz adds, “I kind of had an inkling it was him because he Facebook page was all about organ donation and the Packers.”

“She responded and said do I know you? And I said you don’t technically know me, but I think I have your kidney,” said Conway.

Betty the Bean, as Abitz had called her kidney, was in fact the one Conway received. The two communicating online until last month, when Abitz flew to Boston so they could finally meet in person. She says, “We just hugged and I was shaking so much just from all of the emotions and excitedness and I was crying and it was the most amazing meeting ever.”

A grateful Conway adds, “I had never met the woman in my life and she went under the knife to have an organ removed, shipped across the country, so I could get married and go on vacation with my family and do all of the things I used to do and enjoy life again.”

And thanks to the kindness and selfless of a stranger, the two are kidney buddies forever.

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