Wednesday, March 5, 2008

A Donor Match Over Small Talk and Coffee

It is always encouraging to discover new kidney donor stories. Here’s one that was in yesterday's New York Times [Photo: Annamarie Ausnes, left, will receive a kidney from Sandie Andersen, who works at the Starbucks coffee shop that Ms. Ausnes frequents.]

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New York Times / / March 4, 2008

A Donor Match Over Small Talk and Coffee

By William Yardley

Tacoma, Wash. — Annamarie Ausnes is known for holding up the line at her favorite Starbucks here, carefully counting out her coins to pay for her "short drip, double-cupped" daily jolt. Over the years, Sandie Andersen, a friendly barista behind the counter, might have rolled her eyes once or twice but she has also taken these morning moments to make conversation, to make friends.

"She reached over the counter and said, 'I'm a blood match,' " Ms. Ausnes said last week, recalling the conversation.

Ms. Andersen said, "We both stood there and bawled."

Turns out, Ms. Andersen had made Ms. Ausnes a special offer, off menu. On March 11, the two women are scheduled to go into surgery at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle. If all goes well, when they come out Ms. Ausnes, 55, who has polycystic kidney disease, will be the new owner of Ms. Andersen's left kidney.

Ms. Andersen, 51, has worked at Starbucks for more than four years. She said she had taken the job for the good corporate health benefits, which her husband's job does not provide. Her husband, Jeff, did not realize his wife would also be providing health benefits.

"My husband said, 'Next time someone comes in and says they don't feel good, don't give away another body part,' " Ms. Andersen said.

Ms. Ausnes, an administrative assistant for student government at the University of Puget Sound, said she had been buying her morning coffee at this Starbucks, at North Proctor and 26th Streets, for three years. She has known for nearly two decades that she has a kidney disease, but her kidney function has declined significantly recently.

Last year, after tests showed that family members could not provide her with a transplant, it became clear that dialysis and a wait of some years for a donor were inevitable. Ms. Ausnes never mentioned this during her daily exchanges with Ms. Andersen.

"It looked like dialysis was coming close and I just said, 'Annamarie, you never know where a donor's going to come from,' " recalled Wanda Ryan, the transplant coordinator at Virginia Mason who is handling her case. " 'Keep telling people your story.' "

In November, not long after that conversation, Ms. Ausnes stopped into Starbucks as usual, but this time Ms. Andersen noticed that her customer was glum. Ms. Ausnes finally told her the news, and the response was instantaneous.

"I'm going to get tested," Ms. Andersen said.

And she did. Blood type O? Yes, a match. Negative cross-match under the microscope? Yes, perfect. The six elusive DNA markers? One of six was alike, not ideal, but good enough.

So there they were that morning last fall, crying over the counter while the coffee line grew longer.

Both women expect to be in the hospital for about a week then to be out of work for up to six weeks. Howard D. Schultz, the chief executive of Starbucks, called both women and told Ms. Andersen "how proud I am to have someone like you working for our company."

She joked about Mr. Schultz's recent, well-publicized emphasis on having employees make a "human connection" with customers.

Ms. Andersen, who has done missionary work in Mexico and helped dig mud out of houses in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, said this latest gesture should not be viewed as unusually magnanimous. People should give freely of themselves, she said, and they do more often than is noticed.

Ms. Ausnes will undergo regular monitoring and testing and will need to take medication regularly for the rest of her life to prevent her body from rejecting Ms. Andersen's kidney, according to Ms. Ryan, of the hospital. Ms. Andersen, who was interviewed extensively by the hospital to make sure she was physically and mentally stable, should be recovered in six months, charged only with keeping a slightly sharper eye on her basic health and diet.

Ms. Andersen said, "I asked my surgeon, 'Will I be able to snowboard afterward?' He said, 'Do you snowboard now?' I said, 'No, but I'm hoping to.' "

1 comment:

Jim & Nancy Forest said...

Here's a comment from our friend usan Massotty (a Dutch-to-English literary translator living in Holland):

It's always nice to read a heart-warming story and to know that it reached the readership of The New York Times.

My eye was caught by one detail: that Sandie Andersen had a good health plan with Starbucks. Until recently I had always lumped Starbucks together with MacDonalds and the other fast-food chains: low-paying jobs with no fringe benefits. But then in January, when I was visiting a friend of mine in Sacramento - a former labor organizer now employed as a social worker - she told me that she advises her clients to apply for work at Starbucks for exactly that reason: they offer good benefits and also allow their employees to fix their working schedules around their children's school hours. I was flabbergasted. If Starbucks can survive and make a profit while giving their employees decent benefits, why can't the other chains? (This is a rhetorical question, since you and I both know the answer!) Ms. Andersen can only be a donor because she had a good health plan and because her employer is allowing her to take sick leave. Just think of all the people in the world who could be helped if only there was such a thing as universal health coverage!

Okay, time for me to get off my soapbox and go back to work...