Transplant patient and donor recovering well
ELBURN – When St. Charles teenager Sam Shaw needed a kidney in 2018, a Kane County Chronicle article in June led to an organ exchange in December involving two families from the same town.
St. Charles North High School student Shaw was suffering from kidney failure when his mother, Caroline Shaw, asked the Chronicle to publicize her son’s need for a living organ donor.
Sam Shaw was on a list of potential recipients from deceased organ donors, but his family knew he might receive a kidney sooner if someone came forward and offered to donate one. Sam’s mother and his father, Phill Shaw, were not matches for their son.
Many people shared the article on social media, and Sam Shaw received lots of offers from people wanting to be a donor. The screening process eliminated many of them from being a match for him, except Tara Johnsen, a 20-year-old whose father, Todd Johnsen, needed a kidney, too.
Tara Johnsen had been a match for her dad, who found out in December 2017 that he was in kidney failure and required a transplant.
However, when he had to undergo a quintuple heart bypass surgery the following spring, blood transfusions he received left antibodies in his blood that disqualified Tara as a match.
Soon afterward, Tara’s older sister, Kaitlyn, saw the Kane County Chronicle article about Sam Shaw on Facebook and told her family. Tara immediately went to work. She called Katie Jones at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, who was coordinating Sam’s kidney transplant. She told Jones about her St. Charles family’s situation.
After extensive screening, Sam Shaw and Tara Johnsen were determined to be a match and the families’ two dads were, too. It’s known as a “paired kidney exchange” or more commonly, a kidney swap.
“It took Tara and Kaitlyn pushing for this,” Todd Johnsen said.
In mid-December, the transplants took place. At Northwestern Memorial Hospital, surgeons removed one of Tara Johnsen’s kidneys and took it directly to Lurie across the street, where it was transplanted in Sam Shaw. Meanwhile, at Northwestern, one of Phill Shaw’s kidneys was taken out and transplanted in Todd Johnsen.
Both Sam Shaw and Todd Johnsen had been undergoing dialysis a few times a week until the transplants. Now, they’re recovering well and proceeding with their lives. Sam Shaw is an active teenager who is in the school band and excels in academics.
Todd Johnsen, a local farmer who recently moved to Elburn, is looking forward to resuming his favorite hobby – softball – having been a member of many local teams for more than 30 years.
Tara Johnsen and Phill Shaw are expected to lead normal lives even though each has only one remaining kidney.
A good thing that has come from the trauma the Johnsen family has experienced is that many people the family knows have signed up to be organ donors after hearing about what happened, Todd Johnsen said.
The two families did not meet before the surgeries, following protocol of the hospitals, which are going to set up a meet and greet for them in the near future, Tara Johnsen said.
The Shaw family was not available for comment.