Firefighter Starts Kidney Donation Chain
It’s not uncommon to hear of someone needing an organ donation of sorts, but this story is a bit of the exception. In November 2013, West Pierce Firefighter/Paramedic Jo Kummerle’s mother was in need of a kidney donation and the search began for a donor. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a match among family or friends that were tested, so a chain was started. A chain means that someone donates on behalf of the person in need and in this case, Kummerle’s sister donated on behalf of their mother.
In February 2014, the chain began and by the end, 15 kidneys were donated and 30 total people were involved in the process. Kummerle was grateful for her mother’s health benefiting from such a large chain of donations. However, there was something in her that wanted to continue the support of someone else in need.
In August 2015, Kummerle contacted the University of Washington and expressed her interest in starting a chain of her own. They explained how excited they were to hear this news and that it wasn’t a common call they receive. Typically, once a loved one has gone through the process, that’s the last they hear from them.
“I asked if it was possible to donate to someone really nice who had kids. They said that wasn’t a part of their screening process,” Kummerle says with a laugh. “I thought it was worth a shot asking.”
Two months later, a chain was set up and Kummerle donated her kidney to a complete stranger who lives in New Jersey. Five kidneys were donated during this process and one more is outstanding for when a recipient is found.
In March of this year, Kummerle accepted an opportunity to travel to the east coast to conduct a study at Georgetown University for altruistic kidney donors, referring to the fact the donor has no association to a family member or friend. The study consisted of various things, including an MRI, psychological and computer-based tests, questionnaires and a filmed interview. While she was there, she decided to meet her recipient, Tressa. Kummerle and her son met Tressa and her family at the top of Lincoln Memorial steps.
“We giggled and hugged and teared up and hugged some more,” Kummerle says with a wide grin. “And Tressa is one of the nicest people I’ve met, so I got really lucky since they don’t screen for that. I’ve made a friend for life and we keep in touch daily.”
For anyone who knows Kummerle, that wide grin is something she walks around with on a regular basis. “You know, people say they’re blessed when things like this happen and I can honestly say, I am. I don’t mean that to be cliché, either. I feel like this experience has given so much to me, even though someone else is walking around with my kidney.”
Kummerle went on to explain the surgery and recovery processes and how she really doesn’t feel any different. “I couldn’t lift while I was recovering, but that was almost it. I have some very minor limitations, but so small that I don’t notice them.”
After Kummerle’s recovery and return back to work, she was nominated by a co-worker for a Valor Award, which is given by the District to those who have shown acts of heroism and selflessness. While what Kummerle did was extremely selfless, it was discussed that her situation may be in a category all her own. From there, the Humanitarian Award was created for situations such as these. On Tuesday, March 15th, Kummerle was presented with the first Humanitarian Award from West Pierce Fire & Rescue at the Board of Fire Commissioners meeting.
“I don’t think most people would go to those lengths, but Jo did and we’re not a bit surprised,” Fire Chief Jim Sharp said. “We’re incredibly proud to have people in our organization that would go out of their way to help someone they didn’t know, as they do here at work every day.”
West Pierce Fire & Rescue would like to thank Firefighter Kummerle for sharing her story with us, as well as those who nominated her for the award, and for simply doing the right thing.
Kummerle has been with the District since 2004.