Kidneys create triangular bond for Antrim couple

PAT FRIDGEN
Tom and Lori Clopper have both received or donated a kidney, but not to each other.

Tom Clopper, Greencastle, needed a kidney in 2000.

His sister Deb Repp, Williamsport, Md., was a perfect match, and gave him one of hers.

Deb's husband Jody needed a kidney in 2011.

Tom's wife Lori was an incompatible match, but since science can handle such donations, doctors were willing to do the surgery.

Enter John and Mary (true names not known), from Connecticut. John needed a kidney. Mary wanted to donate. Physicians at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore ran data from the involved parties through an exchange program registry and discovered that Lori was a perfect match for John and Mary was a perfect match for Jody.

The switcheroo transplants took place July 19. Everyone is back home and doing well. The doctors are certain they kept everything straight.

Logistics

"You can't even make this stuff up," laughed Lori from her Hollowell Church Road home.

Beyond the unique situation that two members of a family, not related by blood, needed donor kidneys, the odds that three couples, six people, now share the bond of living with one kidney each, must be fodder for statisticians.

The decision to help her brother-in-law was immediate, said Lori, 34.

"Why not? Why wouldn't I? Deb did it for Tom. It saved his life."

The medical backgrounds of the men were different. Tom, 41, discovered in June 2000 that he was in renal failure. His symptom had been headaches. By September, he was in the operating room at the University of Maryland Hospital. Jody suffered from a hereditary illness and knew a transplant was inevitable. After Lori stepped forward, a year of compatibility testing took place. She was approved as a donor in April. The surprise matches were found in May.

Then the careful scheduling began.

"You want to talk about logistics!" she said.

She and Jody checked into Johns Hopkins early in the morning, as did John and Mary at Hartford Hospital. The two women went into surgery first, and a courier on an Angel Flight carried Lori's kidney to Connecticut, then brought back Mary's kidney. The volunteer charitable organization offers free air transportation for medical needs. Lori's morning procedure took two hours. Jody went in mid-afternoon for five hours. She was discharged July 23. He came home July 26.

Lori's recovery is going "great. Everything is exactly the way they told me it would be. And Jody's doing wonderful, feeling better each day."

Lori doesn't have restrictions on her lifestyle, just to endorse the healthy habits recommended for everyone. She should have clearance to return to her job in the Greencastle-Antrim School District when classes resume in a few weeks. And she and Tom hope the cycle is ended, that their children, Morgan, 12, and Ethan, 10, won't develop kidney problems.

The families have good stories to pass along, which probably made for conversation around hospital water coolers.

"It blew the minds of the doctors, the whole story," Lori said. "For me, it was a simple thing to do, but the benefits were countless."