Newswise — When Dorothy Jambrosek, 47, decided to donate a kidney to a stranger, she didn’t realize that her goodwill would save her own life. After undergoing a series of tests required to give a kidney, doctors discovered that Jambrosek had precancerous lesions in her breast that could become cancerous.

“My doctor made a personal visit to my office with a handful of Kleenex to deliver the bad news,” Jambrosek said. “The first thing I asked him when I heard the diagnosis was, ‘Can I still donate my kidney?’”

Despite doctors discussing alternative options with her, Jambrosek was determined to donate a kidney to help another person in need. However, before she could proceed, Jambrosek and her physicians had to overcome a series of hurdles and difficult decisions before the transplant surgery could take place.

A team of health-care providers at Loyola University Health System (LUHS) led by Constantine Godellas, MD, FACS, director of the Breast Clinical Program and co-director of the multidisciplinary Breast Oncology Center, treated her with a double mastectomy followed by reconstructive surgery led by LUHS plastic surgeon Victor Cimino, MD, FACS. Jambrosek also received support through Loyola’s Coleman Foundation Image Renewal Center and a mindfulness program led by Linda Janusek, RN, PhD, professor, Loyola University Chicago Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing, and Herb Mathews, PhD, professor, Department of Microbiology & Immunology, Stritch School of Medicine.

“We had to deal with her breast issues before we could even think about the kidney transplant,” said Dr. Godellas, LUHS. “Fortunately, we caught it early and were able to treat it effectively without chemotherapy or radiation.”

As she recovered from her breast operations, Jambrosek met with a team of health-care providers led by LUHS kidney transplant surgeon John Milner, MD. Together with Dr. Godellas, her team of physicians cleared Jambrosek to donate a kidney only after they determined that there would be no harm to her or to her recipient.

“Dorothy had to meet with our team of surgeons, doctors, nurses and patient advocates among others before we could evaluate her case and approve her kidney donation with our medical review board,” Dr. Milner said. “We performed a series of tests to ensure that Dorothy was still eligible and physically and psychologically equipped to undergo this surgery.”

Jambrosek’s kidney removal happened on March 4. Her donation created a Pay-It-Forward kidney donation chain where six other people were able to receive kidneys. This type of chain begins when an altruistic donor steps forward and offers to donate a kidney to a stranger. The donor's kidney is then given to a compatible transplant candidate who has an incompatible donor who then agrees to give a kidney to a third person with an incompatible donor, and so on. Potentially, the chain can go on forever creating more opportunities for transplants.

In this case, Jambrosek’s recipient had been difficult to match to a kidney donor. However, Jambrosek was compatible and the patient gratefully accepted her kidney when he might not otherwise have been transplanted so easily. His family member, who was not a match for him, was able to give a kidney to another person in need through a chain donation facilitated by the National Kidney Registry.

Following the transplant surgery, Jambrosek was back at work the following Wednesday and back in the gym four weeks later. As an avid athlete and otherwise healthy person, Jambrosek said she likely never would have undergone a mammogram had it not been necessary for the kidney donation.

“Paying it forward to save someone else actually saved my own life,” Jambrosek said. “I’m so grateful that the precancerous cells were caught when they were and that I was still able to help another person in need.”

Jambrosek, who remains healthy today, is one of the Seven Sisters of Loyola. The organization is believed to be the first in the country, and perhaps the world, in which five employees donated kidneys to complete strangers. Two other employees donated kidneys to casual acquaintances, asking nothing in return.

“My diagnosis made me all the more determined to donate my kidney,” Jambrosek said. “None of us are promised tomorrow, so it is best to give when we know that people are in need today.”

Register for reporter access to contact details