• Bassett Nurse Donates a Kidney and Gives a Stranger Best Gift Ever

    Bassett Healthcare Network, Bassett Medical Center

    December 22, 2018

    Early 2018, as Samantha Jankowski was scrolling through Facebook late one night, a posting about a woman looking for a kidney donor caught her eye. There was no photo, just some information that the living donor needed to have O+ or O- blood, and the recipient’s name, Vicki Tuttle. The post listed a number to call for more information.

    Jankowski, 29, who has two children, ages 6 and 4, and a fiancé (Elijah), pondered helping the woman, a total stranger, and thought, “what a way to be able to help someone. I help people every day. This is my purpose; to help others.” Jankowski, who lives in Margaretville, is a nurse who has worked at Bassett’s health center in Andes for about a year.

    “I only told my fiancé, my mom and the transplant coordinator of my plan,” says Jankowski, who has O-negative blood, which means she can give to all.

    “It’s like I have two pencils but she has none,” Jankowski said to her children when trying to explain how another woman needed a kidney and she wanted to give up one of her own kidneys to help her because the other woman didn’t have any.

    The transplant center sent Jankowski a packet, which asked for medical history, supplied information about what to expect, including necessary testing, and it asked about a support person. Jankowski says if her partner wasn’t supportive, she wouldn’t have pursued the plan. Elijah, however, was very supportive.

    Meanwhile, while filling out that paperwork, Jankowski happened to pick up a local paper that had a story about a woman from Grand Gorge, named Vicki Tuttle, who was looking for a kidney. Jankowski couldn’t believe that this was the same woman from the Facebook post that she was filling out paperwork to be a donor for. “All the testing and trips to Albany is so small compared to Vicki’s three-days-a-week dialysis times three years.”

    Thereafter, Jankowski and Tuttle communicated by phone but finally met in person in July over lunch. After they met and got to know each other, Tuttle “felt like this is real; it’s going to happen!”

    “I’m glad I didn’t know when I was younger when I was first told I had a polycystic kidney the impact that continuous dialysis can have on your life,” says Tuttle, whose kidneys started to fail at age 49. The first nephrectomy was done in 2016 to make room for a transplant, and the second kidney was removed in 2018 because it had grown so large it was impeding digestion. At 50, Tuttle started dialysis. “It really affected my social life, and I haven’t done anything or been anywhere in three years. And I had no desire to travel due to the fact that I was always tired.”  She had also been looking for three years for a living donor. “I even rented a billboard.”

    Tuttle’s lifestyle had always been an active one, having worked for the NYS Department of Transportation as a flagger and as a heavy equipment operator for more than 25 years before retiring.

    “I was amazed at Samantha’s bravery, that she’s brave enough to do something very major for a complete stranger,” says Tuttle. “She is brave and generous and I think God picked her as my angel.”

    After a successful operation in Albany on Dec. 10, both are doing well.

    “Everyone can be a living donor; if you’re healthy and able to help someone who’s not healthy, then why not,” says Jankowski. “Just be kind to strangers. I mean, now she’s not a stranger to me. She’s like family now.”

    “It really makes me feel like I’ve gotten a Christmas miracle,” says Tuttle. “She saved my life.”

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