The Gift of Organ Donation

Stephanie Peel and Al Hovinga have a special bond.

Al Hovinga has a disease which caused his kidneys to lose function and stop working.  Through the gift of a living organ donation, he has been able to receive a working kidney.  Donations of this organ are the most common among transplant surgeries. It has been one year since Hovinga got the news that a match had been found – right here in his hometown of Lowell.

From Disease to Donation
Hovinga has Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD).  His kidneys were full of cysts, which made each of them become the size of a football.  These cysts cause the kidneys to lose function and eventually stop working. His mother passed away from an aneurysm which is also associated with PKD.

Due to the level of kidney function lost, he was placed on the organ donor hold list on June 2017.  In addition to being on the list he also did what he could to find a match on his own. Through a Facebook page, photos and information was shared.  He wore a shirt letting people know he was in need of a kidney donation.

Enter Stephanie Peel, who saw a photo of Hovinga in one of these shirts on Facebook and contacted him.  Some may know Peel for her involvement with Vergennes Broadband, but aren’t likely to know she donated one of her kidneys.  After blood tests in fall of 2017 revealing the two were a match. On January 29, 2018 official approval for the transplant came from doctors.  The surgery would take place on March 14, 2018.

A New Bond Created
Hovinga and Peel did not know each other prior to looking into whether they were a good match for an organ transplant.  As they got to know each other they did discover they had a lot of connections. Peel graduated from high school with Hovinga’s son.  Both Al and Carol Hovinga graduated from high school with Peel’s dad.

When you live in the same community as your organ donor it’s also easy to stay in touch.  Sharing a bond few have, Al has continued contact with Stephanie to keep her up to date on his progress.  “The outcome for a person who receives a transplant from a living donor is much better that from a deceased donor.  That being said recipients of organ from a deceased donor still do very well and have their lives greatly improved and extended.” says Hovinga of the importance of organ donation.  Due to continued inflammation, Hovinga underwent surgery in December to remove his original kidneys as they were causing discomfort. Since the procedure he has been more comfortable and able to do more.      

Peel had been on the organ donation list for years but didn’t think much about being a living donor until a couple of friends shared information about Al on Facebook.  She had a feeling this was something she should pursue and called the number listed on Al’s shirt. “I haven’t regretted donating my kidney for a moment. If it’s something you think you might be able to do, just look into it. So many people are waiting for a kidney transplant, and it doesn’t have to be that way.” comments Peel on her experience.      

The Importance of Donation
Al’s wife, Carol says she’s thankful that she was healthy enough to take care of her husband as he searched for a donor and recovered from surgeries.  She also says, “I am thankful for our family and friends that helped us through this awesome miracle.”

Carol also shared with us that another person was in contact with them regarding a donation around the same time they began working with Stephanie, who ended up being a better match.  It turned out that the Hovingas knew of another person in need of a kidney – and the two were a match! “My advice for those who are looking for an organ for a loved one is “ASK” and keep asking!” Carol advises.  She also suggests reaching out to as many people as possible through friends and social media. “Pray. Ask for prayers. It worked for Alan! Never give up!”

Now at 66, Hovinga is living without pain and discomfort from his original kidneys.  Because PKD is a genetic disease, his new kidney won’t be at risk for any additional loss of function.  Those looking to learn more about donating organs can go to United Network for Organ Sharing.  

All photos courtesy of Al and Carol Hoving and used with permission.

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