Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas
Bonded by Love: Sister Donates Kidney to Brother
Jennifer and Richard Ramirez are the oldest and youngest siblings in a family of six. They grew up in a tight-knit household and have always been close.
Now the Navy Veteran and his sister have something that bonds them even more – he has her kidney.
Richard joined the Navy in 1989 and after his discharge made his home in San Antonio, Texas. Jennifer settled in New York.
Separated by 1,800 miles, the brother and sister kept in close touch with each other and the rest of their family. Last month, they came together at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston so Jennifer, 37, could donate her kidney to her brother.
“It wasn’t a hard decision for me,” Jennifer said. “His best friend initially matched as a donor, but when he couldn’t donate due to medical issues, I knew I had to step up even though he never asked me to. I couldn’t not help my brother if I was physically able.”
Polycystic kidney disease is an inherited disorder that causes kidneys to lose function over time. It runs in the Ramirez family. Richard was already on dialysis three times a week and faced more of the same in the future. Although Jennifer showed no signs of PKD, doctors at the Houston VA Medical Center had to rule out that she could develop it later in life.
“We performed extensive genetic testing on Jennifer and were happy to be able to tell her she does not have the PKD gene,” said Dr. Venkat Ramanathan, director of the Houston VA’s Transplant Program. “This eased her mind for the future and allowed us to match her as a donor for her brother.”
After being cleared as a donor, Jennifer traveled to Houston in February. The surgery took place February 13. A few days later, brother and sister were discharged and even able to tour Minute Maid Park, home of the World Series Champions Astros, with their sister Jackie McGarr, who also came to Houston to support her siblings during the surgery. Both Jennifer and Richard are now back home and doing great. “The doctors at the Houston were incredible from start to finish,” said Richard. “It was a strange feeling knowing my sister was having surgery in an operating room right down the hall, but everything went perfectly. I can’t say enough about the amazing care I got at VA and about the outcome of the surgery.”
“I would encourage everyone to get tested to see if they are a match for someone who needs a kidney,” she said. “The wonderful feeling of helping someone far outweighs any discomfort that exists in this surgery. If I had more kidneys, I would donate again in a heartbeat.”
The MEDVAMC is one of seven Kidney Transplant Centers in the Department of Veterans Affairs.