Local Woman Donates A Kidney To A Stranger, Gains A Lifelong Friend

9:35 PM, May 15, 2012   |    comments
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Buffalo, N.Y. - For the last 18 months, Mitch and Cheryl Stone of Jamestown have been looking for, and praying for, an angel.

Not an angel like Clarence, from the movie "It's A Wonderful Life," but a real angel.

And that's because Mitch Stone's once wonderful life has been slowly ebbing away, his kidneys are dying.

"It's really draining. I'm tired all the time," said Mitch.

Mitch can no longer do all the things he loved- travel with Cheryl, go to Bills games with his sons, or get on the floor and play with his five grandchildren.

Mitch Stone: "I think the thing that bothers me the most is seeing my nine year old granddaughter worrying about me.

Cheryl Stone: "That's been the hardest thing, when my kids look at their dad, or the grandkids."

Two summers ago, Mitch placed his profile on the Western New York Kidney Connection, a website for people who are in need of a donor, but he never received any responses.

Then about three months ago, Mitch and Cheryl were watching TV when they saw our 2 On Your Side's story about a guy from North Tonawanda, Greg Emminger, who donated one of his kidneys to a complete stranger- a stranger whose profile he found on the Kidney Connection.

Scott Brown: "When you saw the story on TV what was your reaction?"

Mitch Stone: "I actually cried, it was very heart warming, it was a miracle, just a miracle that there's people out there like that."

Cheryl Stone: "It gave us hope because Greg was a stranger and you don't hear many of those stories. So when we walked away from that we said we still do have hope and there still is good people out there, so we just prayed everyday and every night."

It turns out that they wouldn't have to pray for very much longer.

And that's because about 45 minutes away, Diane Bookhagen of Springville was also watching TV that night. She saw our story as well.

Diane Bookhagen: "It was incredibly moving, and I started thinking about what obstacles would be in the way that would prevent me from doing something similar and I couldn't come up with good reasons."

And so the very next day Diane went to the Kidney Connection website and came across Mitch's profile.

Scott Brown: "What was it about Mitch's profile that moved you?"

Diane Bookhagen: "On Mitch's profile he had this awesome family portrait. I come from a big family and I imagine all those people in that great portrait were concerned about him."

Within a day, Diane e-mailed Mitch: "Dear Mr. Stone, I read your profile on Kidney Connection and was quite moved, I've considered becoming a living donor for quite some time."

Scott Brown: "Were you surprised when she e-mailed you?"

Cheryl Stone: "Oh, tremendously. It was the morning, the morning or two after Greg's story. So that was like unbelievable that it could happen so quick."

From there, Mitch and Cheryl and Diane started e-mailing back and forth, and although Diane didn't tell the Stones right away, she had already decided to become Mitch's donor, that angel they had been waiting for.

The e-mails revealed that Diane and her husband Bruce and Mitch and Cheryl all shared a deep faith.

Cheryl Stone: "We just figured God had a plan for us."

Diane Bookhagen: "I believe this is part of His plan for me, I can relax and let it happen, so for me it's been very comforting and it's connected us."

And although they all felt very connected, they still hadn't actually met.

But that all changed one week before surgery, when Mitch and Diane happened to be scheduled for their final tests at the same time at ECMC, and saw each other in the waiting room.

And it was there that all of the anticipation, the praying, and the waiting came together in the hug to end all hugs.

Scott Brown: "What's it like to meet this guy?"

Diane Bookhagen: "It's amazing, just amazing I'm so excited, so happy to meet him, we feel like we know each other through e-mail already. It's awesome to see him in the flesh it's wonderful very exciting."

Mitch Stone: "Very emotional, very excited, just elated, just wonderful, hard to put into words, hard to put into words."

From there, the Mitch and his angel went through their final tests in adjoining rooms.

Then a last hug and a kiss and the surgery that will connect Diane and Mitch forever is all set.

It's the morning of the transplant.

Mitch is prepped and ready to go, Diane has already been in surgery for a few hours.

Scott Brown: "Are you anxious, nervous, confident, how do you feel?"

Mitch Stone: "Confident, not nervous at all. I'm at peace, not worried at all, very relaxed."

Dr. Mark Laftavi is the surgical director of the transplant program at ECMC.

ECMC is the new transplant center for Western New York. Because both the hospital and the two families want to increase awareness about living donors, they allowed us into the operating rooms for the actual transplant.

While Diane's kidney is being removed in one O.R., Mitch is being operated on in the room next door as Dr. Laftavi prepares him to receive Diane's kidney.

The less time the a donor kidney is without oxygen, the better the chance that the transplant will be successful.

Dr. Mark Laftavi: "The beauty of the kidney transplant from the living donor as you see that they are done simultaneously so the kidney's out and comes into this patient immediately."

The actual removal of Diane's kidney takes just one minute. Dr. Laftavi walks by us with Diane's kidney, and Mitch's future, in his hands. He places it in an ice filled tray and then the doctor walks next door into Mitch's operating room.

It will take about an hour for the transplant, Mitch's virtually worthless kidneys will be left in his body.

As soon as the transplant is complete,Diane's kidney begins to work immediately in Mitch's body.

Dr. Mark Laftavi: "So that is different than what we get from a deceased donor where the kidney might now work right away. Therefore the quality of the kidney is less than what you get from a living donor. If the kidney works on the table, normally they do much better long term. Getting a kidney from a living donor is like getting a brand new car compared to a used car."

A few hours later, Mitch is closed up and the transplant is finished.

Dr. Mark Laftavi: "So far everything looks very good, I'm very happy with the result."

Mitch's family gets the great news from the doctor just a few minutes later.

Cheryl Stone: "He told us that Mitch did great, Diane did great, he's producing urine, that's the number one priority and we're just all so happy."

Eight days later, Mitch's angel, now minus one kidney, gets to see him for the first time since the surgery.

They embrace once again.

Diane Bookhagen: "Oh, it's so good to see you again. Look at your pink cheeks!"

And then man whose cheeks are now once again full of life, gives Diane a pin that signifies that they are now forever joined.

One half of the pin says "I gave the gift of life," the other half, that Mitch will wear says "I received the gift of life."

And even though it was Diane who helped to save Mitch's life, she tells Mitch that she's writing him a letter to thank him for how he's changed hers.

Diane Bookhagen: "I need to get you that letter because you need to know what I've gotten out of this. You have given me a lot, you have given me a lot. And some of it you can't put a price tag on and I'll remember it all my life."

Mitch Stone: I still can't believe someone I didn't know donated me a kidney and now that person is no longer a stranger, she's a close friend."

Diane Bookhagen: "Just because we didn't know each other, we're all put here to take care of each other and it was my privilege to do that."

Scott Brown: "If a friend of yours said I'm thinking about donating, what would you tell them?"

Diane Bookhagen: "I would totally encourage them 100 percent. It's something beyond my wildest dreams, I'd do it again tomorrow.

In the end, it turns out that Mitch and Diane are now not only joined by a kidney, but by the hearts as well.

If you're interested in learning more here's the Kidney Connection website:



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