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Young mother set to receive new kidney thanks to paired donor exchange program

Published: Aug. 26, 2020 at 9:51 PM CDT
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VESPER, Wis. (WSAW) - It was a call Ashley Turner couldn’t believe. A call that meant more to her and her family that can be put into words.

The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota calling to inform her that she and her younger sister, Alison Snortheim, had been paired with a match in the clinic’s paired exchange program.

If Ashley was willing to donate her kidney to a complete stranger, that recipient’s incompatible donor would donate their kidney to Ali.

The answer was easy for Ashley, who has watched her sister fight for her life over the past year and a half.

We first introduced to Ali back in July, the 24-year-old mother of two diagnosed with Anti-glomerular basement membrane (anti-GBM) antibody disease, with toxins in her body making it difficult to find a compatible donor.

Monday’s call, that Ali would receive her new kidney on September 17 thanks to the swap made possible by her sister, was a call the family never thought would come.

“We didn’t expect it ever to happen,” said Wendy Bendickson, Ali and Ashley’s mother. “It’s a miracle.”

A miracle that her daughters weren’t prepared for. After joining the Paired Exchange Program two weeks ago, Ali and Ashley were told it would be at least six months.

“I did not expect the phone call,” Ashley said. “I received the call first from Mayo because I had to say ‘Yes, I accept to be in the paired donor’ for her to get her kidney.”

Ashley, of course, said yes, and asked if she could be the one to tell her younger sister that the kidney she had needed for over a year was just a few weeks away. She did so in a Facebook phone message, with most of the family on the call.

“I think it took me a couple of minutes to even realize what Ashley was saying,” Ali said, with a smile. “Then I cried.”

Tears of joy and relief for the young mother who didn’t know how much longer her rare disease would allow for her to be there for her two-year-old Eleanor, 1-year-old Owen and husband Jared.

Still, with that joy comes the fear of failure.

“I’m still terrified for it,” Ali explained. “There’s still a lot to do before that day. They still have to test blood and stuff again, so I guess I’m afraid that someone’s not going to be able to donate or receive.”

Ali’s mother shares that sense of fear as she prepares to wait patiently as two daughters undergo an operation within hours of one another.

“It’s two daughters with potential dangers for both of them,” Bendickson said. “That’s 5 kids that could be affected by that.”

Aware of the risks, Ashley says it’s worth it to help save to lives, one being her sister’s.

“When I was in Mayo for my testing, I immediately signed the paired donor contract,” said Ashley, who is encouraging others to sign up to be a living donor. “It’s humanity. Everybody should help everybody.”

While the family hopes their story will encourage others to sign up to be an organ donor, they also hope lawmakers will take notice and introduce legislation that will provide more funding for those who are in need of a donation as well as those who decide to donate.

“I would like to say that I could do the same as what Ashley is but now when I see all the cost involved that she has to foot, I think that’s why we don’t see as much donation,” added Bendickson. “There should be more funding out there for people that are willing to give up a kidney, or any organ. That makes me especially proud of her because of that financial burden on her that she is willing to accept.”

Those interested in helping with Ali and Ashley’s medical expenses are encouraged to donate to this GoFundMe page.

Copyright 2020 WSAW. All rights reserved.

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