Kidney Living Donor Saves Local Man

Chief financial officer at UBMD Emergency Medicine donates one of her kidneys to a stranger

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Jackie O’Lay, chief financial officer for UBMD Emergency Medicine, wasn’t a match for the intended recipient of her kidney. But she did save the life of a man to whom she subsequently donated her kidney.

In early 2022, O’Lay read about Elena DePaolo of Niagara Falls, a young mother who needed a kidney and posted about it on social media.

Her story drew O’Lay and prompted her to volunteer for testing to see if she could be a match for her.

DePaolo had survived acute lymphoblastic leukemia, but the chemotherapy and radiation had destroyed her kidneys. By 2017, she was diagnosed with kidney disease.

“I was touched by her story and everything she had been through with chemo and surviving cancer,” O’Lay said.

DePaolo and her husband had struggled to have children and adopted a little boy. Shortly thereafter she learned she was in kidney failure. O’Lay saw images of the small child and did not want to imagine him growing up without his mother.

Despite O’Lay’s generous gesture, testing showed that she was not a match for DePaolo.

Eventually, another donor proved a match and DePaolo underwent a successful transplantation.

“It was a longshot anyway,” O’Lay said. “I was disappointed, but Erie County Medical Center had asked me pretty much immediately if I would consider someone else. I thought, there are 100,000 people nationwide on the transplant list whose stories I don’t know.”

One of those was a patient for whom O’Lay proved a match. On Feb. 28, 2022, she went under the knife at Erie County Medical Center to give one of her kidneys to a stranger for whom the surgery was successful. As for O’Lay, she returned to work about a week after the procedure, suffering only some discomfort and fatigue.

“ECMC goes through how your body will adjust to having one kidney,” O’Lay said. “They screen to make sure you can live a normal, active life with one kidney. They do look at blood pressure to make sure you don’t have high blood pressure or any kind of damage like if you had kidney stones.”

It took a few months of testing to confirm that she could donate.

As for drawbacks to donating her kidney, she cannot think of any. O’Lay credited the surgical team at ECMC for “a smooth process. I can’t say enough about the transplant team. My experience was positive all the way through. I highly recommend it. It’s a process to start with but once the ball was rolling, it was quick and methodical, and the recovery was minimal. Considering you’re saving someone’s life it was an easy choice for me.”

It took about six months after surgery for O’Lay to finally meet the patient whose life she saved.

“And we are still in touch,” O’Lay added.

In fact, they celebrated their one-year transplant anniversary by going out to dinner.

“It’s such a small world but we have mutual friends and we didn’t know each other,” O’Lay said. “His wife knew someone I grew up with and he had a lot of mutual friends with my husband, Scott.”

Top image: Jackie O’Lay