‘It’s amazing’: Community gets behind family’s search for kidney match

Car stickers, Facebook post get word out for Donna

About 100,000 people in the United States are on the national waiting list for a kidney donation, but finding a match can take years. One Baraboo family is taking a creative approach to speed up the process.

“It’s hard,” said Donna Scherbert-Larsen, who is waiting for a kidney transplant.

“Very difficult,” her granddaughter, Cassy Helt, agreed.

The hardest part of any journey can be the waiting, when you feel like you’re spinning your wheels, but getting nowhere.

“I’m not a person that I can sit there and do nothing,” Scherbert-Larsen said.

But “nothing” is all she can do while in dialysis three hours a day, three days a week. She got her diagnosis of stage 4 kidney failure in 2016, right after her husband’s death.

“I had no clue,” Scherbert-Larsen said. “He kept telling me: ‘You gotta take care of yourself. Don’t worry about me,’ but all I could see was him.”

Now, the rest of her family is her driving force — five children, 12 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

With Type A blood, Helt isn’t a direct match for Scherbert-Larsen, who needs a match with Type B or O blood.

University of Wisconsin Health media specialist Gian Galassi said as living donation evolves, centers including UW Health can expand options even when a relative can’t provide a best match.

If a living donor isn’t an ideal match, the center recommends paired exchange donation.

“In other words, this donor and recipient would be entered, in the case of the UW Living Donor Program, into the pool of approved donors and recipients in the National Kidney Registry. This national pool allows us to find the ideal match for both our donors and recipients,” Galassi said. “Therefore, after a thorough living donor evaluation, anyone who could safely donate to a recipient could potentially facilitate a transplant.”

Helt has joined UW’s match program as a living donor, meaning her kidney is available to go to someone else to speed up the process for Scherbert-Larsen.

“Last year we had eight people in our exchange,” Helt said. “I want to do whatever I can for her.”

Last year a kidney became available, but Scherbert-Larsen happened to be too sick that week for the transplant.

“It was taken away, basically,” Helt said.

“It not only caused the delay, but eight other people that lost their chance, too,” Scherbert-Larsen said.

When it felt like things were coming to a halt, the family knew they needed some kind of forward momentum and said a perfect match would speed things along.

“Everything was going slow,” Scherbert-Larsen said. “They tell me, ‘We’re behind ya, just keep going.’ I’ve been trying to, but it’s difficult sometimes.”

A nudge came from a stranger who was behind her, too.

“I just seen the sticker on the back of the vehicle. I knew I had to take it, I knew I had to share it,” said Adam Carpenter, who works delivering packages in the Baraboo area. I always have to help somebody out when I can.”

Since about two months ago, Scherbert-Larsen’s family has had a fleet of cars with decal stickers on the rear windows seeking a match. It wasn’t until Carpenter posted a photo of the sticker on a local Facebook page that they started gaining traction.

“Both my grandparents passed away a few years ago, and it’s tough,” Carpenter said. “When I found out this lady was a grandmother, I knew right away that I was thankful I helped somebody out, I helped potentially save their life.”

“It’s amazing how much people have come together,” Helt said.

While Carpenter’s photo that got so much attention appears to have been taken down by the page, Helt said more than five people have emailed her letting her know they’ve gotten tested to see if they’re compatible.

“The farthest one I’ve gotten so far was an email in Pennsylvania,” she said. “I was like, ‘How did it get out there?'”

It shows how far something can go with a small push forward.

“They’re all behind us 100%,” Scherbert-Larsen said.

To get ahold of the family, you can email kidneyfordonna@gmail.com, but Helt is asking people to consider becoming a living kidney donor, regardless of whether it goes to her grandmother or not. For more information, visit this website.

News 3 Now has sent a message to the local page asking why the post of Carpenter’s photo is no longer available.

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