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ORGAN TRANSPLANT JOINS TWO FAMILIES

Just before she went under, Amy Allen’s anesthesiologist told her not to worry.

The donated kidney that would be transplanted into her body belonged to a 17-year-old boy. It will be strong, and it will last, he said.

Allen had good reason to be nervous about her health. The 29-year-old mother of two had spent the past 21/2 years feeling helpless, undergoing painful dialysis and unable to be the kind of mother she wanted to be because the treatments sapped her energy.

But thanks to the 17-year-old stranger, that all changed, and Allen wanted to say thank you.

"Normally, it takes months to get in touch with the donor," Allen said.

But three days after Allen’s Nov. 13 surgery, her mother, Cheryl Rowe, called her at the hospital bubbling with news. Rowe was sure she knew who had given Allen the kidney.

Allen’s stepfather, Kerry Rowe, had followed accounts in the Review-Journal of Giovanni Saavedra, a 17-year-old who had died on Nov. 11 after falling from the back of a friend’s truck while goofing around, car-surfing.

Kerry Rowe told his wife that Saavedra had donated a kidney to a patient at University Medical Center.

"When I saw that, my heart, my body just burned, and I knew it. … I felt it," Cheryl Rowe said.

She immediately called her daughter, who contacted the Review-Journal for help finding Saavedra’s family.

After receiving the message, Irma Delgadillo instantly wanted to meet the possible recipient of her son’s kidney.

"Right when (Allen) told me she was at UMC, I started crying. Giovanni was at the same hospital," Delgadillo said.

"I jumped out of bed. … I flew out of my house … and went to see her," she said.

Upon meeting in Allen’s hospital room, the women immediately felt connected.

"It was that little gut feeling. It didn’t go away," Delgadillo said.

Allen was set to check out of the hospital, and the two went to the Nevada Donor Network’s Southern Nevada office and confirmed what they already knew.

"I started crying, everybody started crying," Allen said. "Everybody got up and hugged everyone else. And then Irma went and got her daughter, and I showed her daughter where the kidney was, and she just had a big smile on her face."

Delgadillo, who had been struggling to find meaning in her son’s death, smiled too. It took only five days for something good to come of Saavedra’s death.

"I’m so happy she’s going to be OK," Delgadillo said of Allen.

Allen has IgA nephropathy, a common kidney disorder among young people that occurs when a protein that helps fight infections, IgA, settles in the kidneys, causing blood and sometimes protein to leak into the urine.

Basically, the body starts attacking its own kidney, said Gary Shen, medical director of transplant surgery at University Medical Center.

There is no treatment for it, and if a patient does not undergo dialysis or receive a donated organ, slow kidney failure will lead to death, he said.

Three days a week, Allen had to get up at 4 a.m. for 31/2-hour dialysis treatments. The therapy was so exhausting that in May, Allen sent her sons, Austin Blount, 9, and Tyler Allen, 6, to live with their fathers.

"Every time before I would go to (dialysis), I’d be like, ‘Please God, just let me get through this one.’

"It made me sick and tired. … I was so weak all the time."

After recovering from transplant surgery, Allen, who has 8 inches of staples holding her belly together and tubing hanging from her chest, plans to fulfill her goal of being a full-time mom again. She is excited to have the freedom to take her two boys on vacation to visit family in Michigan.

On Wednesday, Allen said that thanks to Saavedra, she finally has hope. For the first time in years, her blood tests came back normal.

"I say (Giovanni’s) name in my head all the time," Allen said. "I think about him all the time; I read the articles on the Internet, and I’ll look at his picture."

She plans to care for her new kidney like "it’s a baby growing inside" her.

"I’m so grateful," she said. "I’m sad for what happened (to Saavedra), it’s just horrible, but he helped a lot of people."

The same day Allen received a kidney, Saavedra’s heart and liver were placed in people in California. His lungs went to Arizona

"His kidney is still working in me. His heart is beating in somebody else. His lungs are breathing. Even though he’s not here, people are living for him, you know. I just think it’s amazing," Allen said.

Now that they have met, Allen and Delgadillo say their lives and the lives of their family members have changed forever.

Saavedra’s sister, Ataly, 11, is on a mission to learn as much about IgA nephropathy as possible.

Allen’s oldest son walks around saying he wants to be kidney doctor.

And Allen’s mother cannot contain her appreciation for the stranger-turned-friend whose son re-energized her daughter’s life.

"I look in your eyes, and I see loss and love, and in my eyes gratefulness and love," Cheryl Rowe told Delgadillo while fighting back tears. "There’s a lot to be grateful for."

Kidneys are currently the only major organs that can be transplanted in Nevada, and the demand for them is great, said Ken Richardson, executive director of the Nevada Donor Network.

Some 250 people are on the state’s kidney transplant list, which has an average wait time of two years, Richardson said.

Forty-six percent of licensed drivers in Nevada have agreed to become organ donors, Richardson said.

Saavedra chose to donate his organs when he went with his mom to get his driver’s permit.

"He said, ‘OK mom, I’m gonna be a donor, and if something ever happens to me, I want you to give my organs to anybody it will give life to,’" Delgadillo said.

"I did everything he wanted," she said softly.

She can’t wait to meet the other people who received her son’s organs. She plans to write letters and contact them through the organ donation system.

"Hopefully one day we can all get together," she said placing her hand on Allen’s knee.

"Thanksgiving is not going to be the same without Giovanni, but you know what, Amy’s here, and that makes me happy," Delgadillo said. "It makes me very happy."

Services for Saavedra are scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday at St. Anne Catholic Church, 1901 Maryland Parkway.

Contact reporter Beth Walton at bwalton@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0279.

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