top of page

The Organ Donor Two Cubicles Away


Jerri Kurdila and Eric Amshoff had both worked at Duke Energy in Monroe, Ohio, for years. She as a gas coordinator and he as a field technician for the power company.

“I knew he worked down the hall, enough to say hi,” Ms. Kurdila says.

That was until she saw an unusual plea on his behalf. Mr. Amshoff’s sister-in-law posted fliers around the office in July 2015, explaining that he suffered from hereditary polycystic kidney disease and needed a transplant. With his blood type, O-positive, he faced a seven-year wait on the national organ donor registry. Would anyone consider getting tested as a possible living kidney donor?

Seeing the photo of Mr. Amshoff and his wife Jodie on the fliers triggered something, says Ms. Kurdila, 53, who is married with two grown sons. “I had the same blood type, and a little voice inside me said, ‘Just go get tested. What would it hurt to see if you’re a match?’ ”

So she did. And she was.

The transplant took place in March of 2016 at the Christ Hospital in Cincinnati.

“What Jerri did for me,” says the 49-year-old Mr. Amshoff, getting emotional. “I’m still amazed every day.”

People rarely discuss personal health problems at work, often out of concern that it could harm their career development or health insurance coverage—or just be considered oversharing.

“But facing a 10-year wait for an organ can stress people past their discomfort level” and lead to an office appeal, says Amy Waterman, an associate professor at the transplant center of the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine. Rarely do such vulnerable moments intrude into the workplace, and Ms. Waterman says company culture can encourage or discourage these types of interactions.

It isn’t clear how many organ donations occur among colleagues. Other than spouses and life partners, the data doesn’t specify relationships among non-biologically-related donors. “We don’t know how many are co-workers, friends, or someone you happened to meet on an airplane,” says Anne Paschke, spokeswoman for the United Network for Organ Sharing, a nonprofit that manages the nation’s transplant waiting lists.

Roughly 100,000 Americans are waiting for a kidney transplant, according to the National Kidney Foundation, and about 17,000 are waiting for a liver transplant, according to the American Liver Foundation. Average wait time for a kidney is about five years, while that of a liver is roughly a year. Most transplants come from deceased donors, but both operations can be done with living donors. Most living donations come from family members.

Though the procedures have become relatively routine, both kidney and liver transplants are considered major surgeries.

Brian Burkett, a development coach at AT&T’s customer-service center in Arlington, Texas, was hospitalized 11 times in 2014 for complications from liver disease. Family members were either too old or tested positive for the same congenital liver defect, so he was put on the national transplant list.

Mr. Burkett, 53, first shared the news with his church and on Facebook. Then he asked his boss if he could share it with his team. He sent an email to every technician manager in his unit—about 15 people—with a link to educational site Living Donors Online.

Co-worker Michael Snyder, a 49-year-old father of five, stepped up. “I looked it all up on the internet, and the risks to me seemed minimal compared with what they were for Brian if he didn’t get one,” Mr. Snyder says. “I saw that guy every day for six years. Of course I’m going to help him.”

Mr. Snyder was solidly built at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, but tests revealed he had a fatty liver, making him ineligible to donate—unless he lost 20 pounds, doctors said. The Army veteran went into military training mode and lost 25 pounds in three weeks.

The operation took place in September 2015 at Baylor University Medical Center. Mr. Burkett said he was out of work for six weeks, while Mr. Snyder couldn’t work for three months because of the physical demands of his job. AT&T gave both men the time off they needed, they say.

When Alana Hashberger, a registration clerk at Weirton Medical Center in Weirton, W.Va., learned last year that her supervisor Lisa Smith needed a kidney transplant, she immediately signed up for testing—surprising even herself. “I’m not even a donor on my driver’s license,” she says. “It was just the right thing to do.”

The pair had worked together for five years, but weren’t close. They worked different shifts.

Ms. Smith, 41, had been on the transplant waiting list since 2012. Ms. Hashberger turned out to be a perfect match. “I repeatedly told her, ‘You don’t have to do this,’ ” Ms. Smith recalled. “ ‘At any time, if you change your mind, I totally understand.’”

When co-workers consider organ donation, transplant professionals are highly sensitive to possible coercion. All donors must undergo thorough psychological evaluations. “They were a little concerned,” Ms. Hashberger says of her transplant team. “I didn’t want them to think my job was dependent on this. I mean, I like my job, but I can find another one.”

The surgery took place at the Pittsburgh’s Allegheny General Hospital in March. Ms. Hashberger, a single mother of three, was out of work for seven weeks. She used up all her vacation days. Co-workers pooled together and gave another seven. They also held a fundraiser to cover the balance from Ms. Hashberger’s short-term disability payments.

Nearly a year later, the pair say life has mostly settled back to normal. “I won’t see Alana for weeks on end,” Ms. Smith says. But she says the experience has brought the administration staff closer as a group.

There’s one change that still catches Ms. Hashberger off-guard, she says. “Everybody probably treats me a lot better than I deserve to be.”

bottom of page