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OD’s Plea to the Universe for Help Lands Precisely at Another OD’s Door

kidney donor sits next to the man who received new kidney in his hospital gown. their spouses stand behind them.
Dino Broccoli, left, is seated next to kidney donor, Dr. Michele Rogers. Their spouses stood behind them when they met for the first time a few days after the transplant. All photos courtesy of Dr. Kim or Dr. Rogers.

When Grace Kim, OD, wrote a heartfelt plea last year saying that her husband needed a kidney to survive, she hoped maybe the message would reach the right person. It did–and an optometrist nearly 2,700 miles away recently donated one of her kidneys to Dr. Kim’s husband, Dino Broccoli.

In the summer of 2023, Dr. Kim, chair of the clinical advisory panel for National Vision in Baltimore, Maryland, posted her story on LinkedIn.

SPREADING THE WORD

WO reached out to Dr. Kim to ask if the platform could amplify the message on its site. She agreed – and a few days later, Michele Rogers, OD, of El Segundo, California, opened the WO email newsletter. “I rarely read journals online, but that day in July, Grace’s story was one of the first ones, and I was overwhelmed by her plea.”

The idea of helping people runs deep with Dr. Rogers. She checked the box to be an organ donor when she received her very first driver’s license at age 16. In college, she was added to the National Bone Marrow Registry. She’s been donating blood to the Red Cross multiple times a year for 25 years.

“I finished reading that story with the feeling that I am supposed to help this family,” she says. Her husband, who works with a health center on Skid Row in Los Angeles and is also an Anglican priest, encouraged her to see where it goes. “In my mind, there was never a question that I would not be a match,” Dr. Rogers says. “A few days later, I put my name into the system and soon after got the first call. Never in the process did I think that I wouldn’t match.”

A PERFECT MATCH

And match, she did. In fact, Dr. Kim says Dr. Rogers was “a perfect match.” She knew that because she was desperately trying everything to force herself into being a match for her husband. “I had volunteered to be a donor, but I was rejected twice. I changed my diet and begged to be screened again and again,” she says. Finally, the living transplant donor team informed her, off the record, they must stop her screening because they found “a perfect match” who was farther ahead in the screening process than her. That was on September 29, 2023. Holidays came and went, and Dr. Kim’s husband’s kidney function continued to decline.

Dr. Kim had heard murmurings about the large number of people who stepped up to be screened to see if they were matches for her husband. Her original post on LinkedIn was shared or commented on by many people, including Reade Fahs, CEO of National Vision,  whose share was viewed by more than 17,000 people.

Dr. Rogers, meanwhile, was continuing the screening process. “Even after I was paired, I was told I could stop this journey at any time,” she says. She never considered it.

DIRE SITUATION

Dr. Kim was desperate as her husband’s kidney function was steadily dropping one to two percent every month and was down to the single digits by December 2023. Doctors told her he had less than three months to live, unless he were to begin dialysis immediately. Dr. Kim says, “Dino risked his life by postponing the dialysis. But he wished to enjoy his ‘potentially last’ Thanksgiving and Christmas with his son, as normally as possible.”

Once started on dialysis, “he would need to be attached to a machine with a stomach catheter, to filter his blood for 10+ hours every day, for the rest of his life.” Dr. Kim and Broccoli also knew that dialysis carried a high risk for him due to his heart condition; many die every day awaiting a kidney, even while on dialysis. But it was the only option left. After the holidays, the dialysis catheter placement surgery was scheduled for Feb. 22.

“A week prior to the scheduled pre-op evaluation, Dino called me at work,” says Dr. Kim. “He told me that the transplant team said an anonymous donor was finally approved for a transplant, and they would be switching the dialysis catheter placement surgery to a kidney transplant surgery. This living donor appeared out of the blue. I’m still in disbelief.” The wait for a deceased donor kidney in Maryland is six to seven years, and there are more than 100,000 people in line nationwide. “Dino didn’t have much time left. And this miracle happened.”

THE DAY THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING

The surgery took place on Thursday, Feb. 22.

Dr. Rogers, who has never been hospitalized in her life, said that on her end, it was easy. Her surgery, a laparoscopic robot-assisted procedure, lasted two hours. The surgeon who removed her kidney carried it to the adjoining surgical suite where Broccoli was waiting for it. “I was in the hospital for two nights, and the care I got was fantastic. There was no pain, and I flew back after my one-week post-op visit and went back to work,” she says.

Dr. Rogers and her husband following the kidney transplant
Dr. Rogers and her husband needed to stay in Baltimore for a few days after the transplant; they enjoyed a dinner at the Inner Harbor.

Dr. Kim nervously was waiting for word when the transplant surgeon came out of the surgery suite to tell her that the new kidney started functioning immediately. She recalls bursting into tears, leaning in for an embrace and hearing the applause from those nearby who heard the story. Within days, Broccoli’s kidney function jumped up from 7% to 57%, she says. “It’s a journey. His kidney function continues to improve to now at 71%,” she says, about six weeks after the surgery. “We are taking one day at a time as Dino continues to heal.”

THE MEETING

Dino Broccoli and Dr. Rogers

Dr. Rogers stayed anonymous during this process. She didn’t even tell family or friends in California what she was doing, until the surgery date was imminent. On the Monday following the surgery, she and her husband, who went East with her, agreed to meet with Dr. Kim and Broccoli in a family room in the transplant floor where he was still an in-patient. During the emotional meeting, the living transplant donor team “officially” revealed to Dr. Kim that Dr. Rogers was indeed that “perfect match.”

That was the first time that Dr. Kim learned anything about her–that she was another OD who had read her story. “Words cannot describe our deepest gratitude to Dr. Rogers for her selfless, courageous act to fly across the country to give her organ to a perfect stranger,” says Dr. Kim. “We are blessed to have found her. We are also extremely grateful for her husband, Steve, and her loving family’s support. I am sure it was not an easy decision to support their loved one to donate an organ, while alive, and to a stranger at that. We hope they know that Dr. Rogers not only saved Dino’s life, but she saved our family.”

She is also impressed by how many strangers stepped up to be screened as transplant candidates. “I do not know who they are, but I am deeply moved, and I am so thankful for them all.”

HOPES TO INSPIRE OTHERS

Dr. Rogers says that she has been reserved about telling her story – because it isn’t about her, she insists. “Ultimately, I thought if it inspires people to consider organ donation or ask themselves what they can do to help someone else, that would be worthwhile.” That’s the ethos on which she’s built her practice. “I take care of four generations of families in my small community. Optometry is a great way to listen and help people,” she says.

Anthony’s plaque to Dr. Rogers

Throughout the process, Dr. Rogers found the care and attentiveness of the transplant team at every step impressive. “It was simple, professional, caring and thoughtful.” She never did this to earn gratitude, but even so, she treasures the plaque that the couple’s son Anthony made for her. The plaque reads, “Thank you for giving my dad a Gift of Life. God Bless You.” It also displays a lotus flower as a symbol of rebirth.

And she adds one hot tip for anyone else making a cross-country flight after an organ donation: make it a connecting flight so you can walk a little.

RECOVERY ONGOING

Dino Broccoli recently celebrated his 55th birthday. It was an especially emotional one for Dr. Kim’s family, as it was a birthday he may have never had if it weren’t for Dr. Rogers’ “Gift of Life.” Anthony gifted his father a 3D printed model of a kidney wearing a crown that said this. “May this, a reminder of the gift you’ve been given, ring all parts true the gift we’ve been given. The gift of YOU.

Dr. Kim is still astonished at how the effort to find a donor came together. She says, “Thank you, Dr. Rogers. Thank you, Reade Fahs, as well as Marjolijn Bijlefeld who reached out to me, compassionately reposting my story on WO, helping to spread the word that led to finding Dr. Rogers. My heart, now knowing the perilous struggle of all those still waiting for their transplant day, has been warmed by the altruistic actions of another. And I hope every day for those people, that they may be able to receive their own gift.”

 

Read Dr. Kim’s original post that explained her husband’s uncertain future here.

Read more news from WO here.

 

Interested in learning more about becoming a living donor?

Organdonor.gov

United Network for Organ Sharing

National Living Donor Assistance Center

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