By Brian Indre
Through some twists and turns and a little luck, two fifth-grade teachers from Thomas Jefferson Elementary School found successful kidney donors — one teacher advocating for a transplant for her husband, whose call for help led to the life-saving transplant for their colleague.
Teacher Torey Fay is a four time cancer survivor and was first diagnosed with Neuroblastoma at age 14. She’s been through countless treatments over the years, and her kidney function has slowly deteriorated.
Her treatments have included numerous surgeries, radiation, chemo treatments and bone marrow transplants, including using her own marrow.
Another treatment consisted of a medicine that removes calcium from her bones that ended up in her kidneys.
“Despite having gone into kidney failure before and having my kidneys always jump start again, this resulted in lasting damage,” Fay said. “My kidneys fought hard to hold onto the function that it had for the next decade as my kidney function slowly decreased.”
As soon as Fay was aware that she was in need of a transplant, she got on the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute list. Fay had three matches before she was eligible, and mentioned that the transplant process is stressful and can go very slowly at times. She checked in with her coordinator on a weekly basis.
Meanwhile, Erin Keating, another Falls Church resident and mother of two school aged children, one of whom also attends Thomas Jefferson Elementary, had already been going through the process to donate her kidney. Keating had been preparing to donate to her friend Lucas McCann, the husband of Layton McCann, the other fifth-grade teacher and colleague to Fay.
Keating was delayed in being able to donate because of some health screening, and in that lull another friend got approved and successfully donated to Lucas.
“Once they cleared me medically, I said that if I had been already cleared for Lucas, then go ahead and put me in the non-directed pool with the National Kidney Registry,” Keating said. “This would put me in with whoever in the world needed a kidney.”
Keating went on to host a presentation to raise awareness about organ donation along with Lucas McCann and his donor at an event at Columbia Baptist church. Around this time Layton McCann made Fay aware of Keating being a possible donor.
“We discovered that we had O-negative and O-positive blood types, so I was at least able to attempt to get matched up with Torey,” said Keating. “I pulled out of the non-directed pool, and went ahead and told the registry that I would go into the pool for Torey.”
It took a few months until Fay would be well enough to be cleared for the surgery, and out of a few other possible donors, Keating ended up being the one that the doctors wanted to move forward with.
“Erin called me to tell me she was a match and was going to be my donor,” Fay said. “We later met for the first time at MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute, where we both happened to have appointments.”
Keating said the decision was clear for her as soon as she learned about how severe kidney disease is. Roughly 13 people die everyday while waiting for a kidney, and 14 people a day are added to the list of needing a kidney.
In a time like this when people feel like they lack control of their lives due to Covid-19, helping combat a disease with a proven strategy gave Keating some resolve.
She just wishes more people were willing to donate.
“I’m not judging anyone for not doing it because it’s a massive decision, but it’s crazy that we don’t talk about it a little bit more,” Keating said. “My decision came along with knowing that if you are deemed healthy enough you can donate a kidney with very little risk to yourself, and save someone else.”
Keating said she heard from people who were astonished that she was willing to donate a kidney to someone that she had never met before.
Even the hospital said that it was rare that they do this surgery for people with no family or friend connection.
The recovery after the surgery has been slower than anticipated, Keating noted, but the experience was rewarding and an overwhelming emotional experience knowing she was able to extend someone’s life.
One of Fay’s students is the son of Regan Davis, who was eager to share this story with the public.
“It’s good news,” said Davis. “I thought it would be nice to bring some attention to this to share some positivity and perhaps raise some awareness of how important organ donation is, and put this information out into the universe.”