Sharon Shipley lived on borrowed time. After receiving a liver transplant in the mid-1990s, she dedicated her life to increasing organ donation awareness. She mentored transplant patients, worked to promote the pink donor dot on driver’s licenses and got donor icons added to the obituary page in The San Diego Union-Tribune. She also worked full time at Lifesharing, a local organ and tissue procurement organization.
When her borrowed liver wore out last year, she went back on the donor wait list. This time, she wasn’t so lucky. Before a liver became available, Shipley contracted an infection that made her ineligible for a transplant. She died in January.
As friends gathered last month to celebrate Shipley’s life, efforts were renewed to carry on her battle to get more people to sign up on the California registry she had worked so hard to establish. They added a registration link to her memorial page, donatelifecalifornia.org/sharie_shipley.
Karny Stefan has taken up Shipley’s cause on the other side of the operating table.
Yesterday was Stefan’s one-year “kidney relocation” anniversary. She donated a kidney to the ailing husband of a San Diego woman she barely knew. Now Stefan, too, has become a vocal transplant proponent.
“It’s sort of humbling that someone’s life was saved due to something I did that was no big deal,” said Stefan, who spent two days in the hospital for the transplant. “I wish everyone knew how easy it was, how low-risk and relatively painless, and how rewarding.”
“I’m 1,000 percent better,” Wilson said. “I was basically at death’s door.”
Wilson estimated that he had a six- to 10-year wait for a cadaver kidney, but only about a year to live. More than 84,000 Americans are currently awaiting kidneys. A California bill to create a living-donor registry is now being deliberated.
Stefan left her job as CEO of Walden Family Services in December to work for the Phoenix Children’s Hospital Foundation’s kidney transplant division. She often counsels potential donors.
Stefan never envisioned herself as an organ donor. She was watching “The Ultimate Gift” on TV, a film about a spoiled young man who must complete several tasks before he can claim an inheritance from his grandfather. Stefan’s phone beeped with a “blast” e-mail from Christy Wilson, Jeff’s wife, seeking a kidney donor.
As she finished reading it, actor Brian Dennehy, who was handling the grandfather’s estate, told the grandson: “I was pretty close to your grandfather. I do have one of his kidneys.”
“It hit me so hard. I took a deep breath,” Stefan said. “I knew instantly that I was meant to do this. I knew I would be a match.”
She e-mailed back, and the rest is history.
In exchange, Stefan has developed a rich friendship with the Wilsons. She spent her Christmas holiday in Encinitas visiting them — and Sydney, the nickname for her kidney.
“I talk to Christy three times a week,” she said. “They have become family.”