Co-founder of Rich­mond ad­ver­tis­ing firm back on run­ning course af­ter do­nat­ing kid­ney

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - BY TAMMIE SMITH

Su­san Dubuque al­most let her ideas of age-ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior stop her from un­der­tak­ing two of the big­gest chal­lenges of her life.

Years ago, af­ter run­ning a half marathon, she stood on the side­lines and watched the full marathon­ers fin­ish. There were peo­ple run­ning who looked older than her 54 years at the time. Could she go the full dis­tance?

More re­cently while work­ing on an ad­ver­tis­ing and mar­ket­ing project on or­gan do­na­tion for the Vir­ginia Com­mon­wealth Uni­ver­sity Hume-Lee Trans­plant Cen­ter, she in­ter­viewed peo­ple who had do­nated or­gans to strangers and peo­ple who re­ceived donor or­gans.

Their sto­ries in­spired and deeply touched her. Dubuque won­dered if she, in

her 60s, could be a donor?

The an­swer turned out to be yes to both ques­tions.

Dubuque, co-founder of the lo­cal ad­ver­tis­ing firm NDP, has run 10 full marathons and on Satur­day will run the Markel Rich­mond Half Marathon.

Or­di­nar­ily she would be run­ning the full An­them Rich­mond Marathon again this year, but in July she do­nated a kid­ney to a stranger in what’s called a nondi­rected or­gan do­na­tion. She did not have a spe­cific re­cip­i­ent in mind but asked that her kid­ney go to whomever needed it the most.

“Quite hon­estly, I as­sumed I was too old to do­nate be­cause I had been un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously thrown off the bone marrow reg­istry when I turned 60. I thought if my bone marrow ex­pired surely my kid­neys did, too,” Dubuque said with a laugh.

But as she looked more into it, she dis­cov­ered that peo­ple in their 70s were or­gan donors.

“I think I’m 65, I’m not too old. So Fe­bru­ary 1, I called VCU and said I would like to see about be­ing an or­gan donor. For months I went through screen­ing,” Dubuque said.

The screen­ing process was phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal.

She was screened for ev­ery type of can­cer, had nu­mer­ous blood and urine tests, EKG, echocar­dio­gram, chest X-rays, stress test and a nu­clear scan. She un­der­went phys­i­cal ex­ams by a kid­ney spe­cial­ist and a sur­geon, was in­ter­viewed by two so­cial work­ers, screened by a di­eti­tian, and had a psy­cho­log­i­cal eval­u­a­tion.

One very sober­ing ques­tion she was asked was, “Do you know you could die?”

“I fi­nally got ap­proved June 16. I got the fi­nal word I had passed all the tests. I im­me­di­ately asked to sched­ule the surgery. So I sched­uled it for July 10,” Dubuque said.

The trans­plant pro­gram looked for a pa­tient who matched her. Ini­tially a 65-year-old man was iden­ti­fied, but his med­i­cal sit­u­a­tion changed. On June 28, a 53-year-old woman was iden­ti­fied as a pos­si­ble re­cip­i­ent.

By hos­pi­tal and trans­plant pol­icy, that is all the in­for­ma­tion Dubuque was told about the re­cip­i­ent. Later, if donor and re­cip­i­ent both agree, they could ar­range to meet.

As soon as she was ap­proved to be a donor, Dubuque be­gan to share her story in blog posts.

“I brought my friends along with me . ... I had prayer war­riors. I had friends that were right there with me through this whole process. I had friends from high school, col­lege, grad school, work, clients ... friends from all walks of my life en­gaged with this. And they were there with me, and that re­ally made it very spe­cial,” she said.

They asked her some of the same ques­tions the screen­ers had. Why would you do­nate a kid­ney to some­one you don’t know? What hap­pens if the re­cip­i­ent does not take care of the kid­ney? What hap­pens if the trans­plant fails? What hap­pens if the re­cip­i­ent dies?

“I pro­cessed that by think­ing of it like the

An­gel Tree. You go to the An­gel Tree and you pick an an­gel and you buy a gift and you give it up. You hand it over and you have done what you can do and be­yond that you have no con­trol. You don’t get to say, ‘Now you take care of that doll.’ ... You’ve given a gift, and it has to be with no strings,” she said.

Also on her mind were the good Sa­mar­i­tan donors whose sto­ries ini­tially in­spired her — a Colo­nial Heights hus­band and wife, both teach­ers, who both gave kid­neys to strangers.

“They wanted to ed­u­cate their chil­dren, they wanted to ed­u­cate their stu­dents, they wanted to role model. I think their val­ues are some­thing I re­ally would as­pire to,” Dubuque said.

The surgery at VCU Med­i­cal Cen­ter was July 11 and was un­event­ful.

“I went into the hos­pi­tal on Tues­day. It’s done la­paras­cop­i­cally with a ro­bot. I got op­er­ated on in the morn­ing. Thurs­day I came home. Fri­day I was off pain meds other than a lit­tle Tylenol. Satur­day I was walk­ing through the neigh­bor­hood and pick­ing weeds in the yard,” she said.

Ev­ery­thing was go­ing smoothly un­til it wasn’t.

“I had a com­pli­ca­tion. No one told my GI tract to wake up, and I ended up back in the hos­pi­tal for a day,” Dubuque said.

Dubuque said she re­mem­bered ly­ing in the hos­pi­tal bed in pain and pray­ing that she did not wake up in the morn­ing with re­grets. That’s when she heard the sound of the med­i­cal trans­port he­li­copter fly­ing above the hos­pi­tal about to land on the rooftop he­li­pad.

One of the trans­plant nurses had told Dubuque there was a pa­tient that she was call­ing that night to come in the next morn­ing.

“I knew that that he­li­copter prob­a­bly meant there was a kid­ney land­ing and it was a de­ceased donor. It would not have been a liv­ing donor. That did it. If all I have to do is put up with gut pain for a few days and a lit­tle bit of em­bar­rass­ment and in­con­ve­nience and no­body had to die ... I do not re­gret it. I woke up in the morn­ing and I was good to go,” Dubuque said.

Two weeks and two days af­ter the surgery, she went in for a fol­low-up visit. She was do­ing fine and was given the OK to re­sume run­ning, slowly.

“Which is the only way I can run,” Dubuque said, laugh­ing.

She started train­ing for the half marathon that week­end. Friends who ran the full An­them Rich­mond Marathon with her last year are run­ning the half marathon with her this year.

One per­son who will be there in spirit cheer­ing her on is Julie Gra­ham, the per­son who re­ceived Dubuque’s kid­ney.

Gra­ham, 53, lives in Roanoke Rapids, N.C. She had been on dial­y­sis for five years. Twice a rel­a­tive had of­fered to do­nate a kid­ney then got scared and backed out.

“I told him, ‘Don’t worry about it. Your heart is in the right place,’” Gra­ham said.

Four times Gra­ham was put on standby and told a kid­ney might be­come avail­able.

“The first two times they called me back be­fore I left home. The other times I got there and the kid­ney would not work out,” Gra­ham said.

The fifth call, in July, was from a live donor. It was Dubuque’s kid­ney.

That call came on a Satur­day with in­struc­tions to re­port to the hos­pi­tal the fol­low­ing Mon­day.

“It’s just amaz­ing she went through with it,” Gra­ham said of Dubuque.

“Ev­ery­thing has changed. I’m not hav­ing to run in and hook up to the ma­chine. I have my free­dom back,” Gra­ham said.

Gra­ham and Dubuque met only re­cently af­ter both agreed that it was OK to share their in­for­ma­tion with each other.

“It was over­whelm­ing. We just em­braced and started talk­ing be­tween the tears,” Gra­ham said.


Su­san Dubuque(right) do­nated akid­ney in July without a re­cip­i­ent in mind. Julie Gra­ham ofRoanoke Rapids, N.C., re­ceived theor­gan.


Su­san Dubuque do­nated a kid­ney in July so it would go to whomever needed it most. She spoke about her ex­pe­ri­ence at the an­nual Cen­tral Vir­ginia Kid­ney Walk in west­ern Hen­rico County last month. Dubuque tossed foam kid­neys to the crowd dur­ing her talk.

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