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Helene Fellows: Kidney donor and live donor advocate

CDN’s weekly community profile

Helene Fellows and her husband, Arthur, outside of the Living Kidney Donation forum on Sunday, April 21. Helene donated one of her kidneys to Arthur. (Eli Voorhies/Cascadia Daily News)
By Annie Todd Criminal Justice/Enterprise Reporter

Helene Fellows (she/her)

Age: 57

City: Bellingham

Lived here for: 12 years

Originally from: Northern California

Notable: Donated a kidney to her husband, Arthur, in 2017 after he was diagnosed with kidney disease and is a living donation advocate.  

How did you become a live kidney donor?

I’ve always wanted to give a kidney, which is weird, I think, and ironic that I procrastinated it to the point where now I could give it to my husband. We didn’t know Arthur’s kidney problems were an issue until they were.

What they do in transplant centers is they test one person at a time to see if you could be a match. I was first on the scene because I’m his wife. There are little hurdles you have to go through and I kept passing the hurdles. We had the same blood type, and then we even matched our antibodies with our blood, and then the donor has to be pretty healthy to undergo the process of donating a kidney.

How has this changed your lives?

We’re lucky for a couple of reasons. When we transplanted, it was just in the nick of time and things went well. We had good insurance. We were 50, which is relatively young, and he hadn’t been on dialysis overall.

We were very proactive. That was the other thing that we really had going for us because if you don’t have somebody in your court that really knows what’s happening and how to navigate the system, it can be super intimidating. There are many, many, many tests, and there are a gillion phone calls, and then there is so much criteria to go through. People get really overwhelmed with that and you have to stay the course and trust they know what they’re doing and you’re going to be fine.

What would you say to someone who’s undecided about signing up to become a living donor?

I would tell somebody who was thinking about giving a kidney, if they’re not all in, they really need to examine that. Once you give a kidney, it is not yours anymore. It is theirs. It’s a benevolent gift, without any strings attached.

What do you think about when you look back at your decision to give Arthur your kidney?

It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. Seriously. I didn’t plan it out this way, that I’d be giving it to my husband. But aside from having my kids, it was not hard in retrospect. It was worth it. It truly was an astonishing experience. You learn a lot about yourself, your friends and family. It’s worth it all day long. If I had more kidneys to give, I would.

How do you become a living donor?

There’s a national registry and there’s also the transplant centers such as Virginia Mason, UW and Swedish in Seattle. You can go on their website, and they have the survey that you take to be a living donor. It will ask you, are you doing this for a family member or a friend or benevolent donor, which is when you just give a kidney to anyone who needs it and that you match with.

Learn more about being a living donor at the Mount Baker Foundation. “Faces in the Crowd” is pub

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