The Gift of a Lifetime

If someone were to introduce you to Barb Hathaway, you’d immediately notice her ready smile and bubbly personality. Stick around long enough, and you’d learn that she’s a wife, mother of two boys and nurse at Adventist Medical Center (AMC). You might even hear about her love of soccer. Pretty normal stuff, until you get to the part where she donated a kidney to one of her patients.

“People did think I was crazy when I offered to donate one of my kidneys to a patient,” laughs Barb. “But it was something that I think was meant to happen—that’s why I never questioned my decision.”

While working in the short stay unit at AMC’s Portland facility, Barb became acquainted with Deborah Donnelly. A single mother, Deborah was diagnosed with kidney problems when she was a teenager, and after the birth of her daughter she began experiencing complications.

She was a regular in the short stay unit where she received Procrit shots to increase her red blood cell count and boost her overall health. Eventually, Deborah’s kidneys started to fail, and her only options were dialysis or a kidney transplant. During one of Deborah’s many trips to AMC to receive treatment, Barb offered to be tested for transplant compatibility.

“I was completely shocked when Barb offered to give me one of her kidneys,” recalls Deborah. “I really thought she was joking.”

But it wasn’t a joke, and as it turned out Barb was almost a perfect match. On June 20, 2003, doctors performed the kidney transplant at Oregon Health & Science University. The procedure was a success. A year later, Deborah is in excellent health and Barb has no regrets.

“A lot of people are amazed by what I did, but I don’t really dwell on it,” Barb says. “All I can say is that I just gave Deborah a gift, and hopefully she’ll have a better life because of it.”

Life has indeed become better for Deborah. She’s no longer a “regular” at the hospital and now has more time and energy—thanks to a functioning kidney—to spend with her daughter Brittany.

“I can’t even find words to express the gratitude I feel toward Barb,” she says. “How do you thank someone for saving your life?”

How would you thank someone for doing what Barb did for Deborah? According to Barb, that part doesn’t really matter. Giving is a way of life, not something you do for recognition.

“I want my children to know that in this life we give to others without expecting anything in return,” says Barb. “If I want them to really understand this, it is important for me to do and not just say.”

Barb’s story is even more remarkable when you realize how humble she is. In her mind, she really didn’t do anything spectacular. But for Deborah, Barb’s gift is nothing short of amazing.

“What Barb did for me has completely changed my life,” Deborah explains. “It’s given Brittany and me a future.”

As an employee at AMC, patients often ask Barb if she’s a Christian. “I’m working on it,” she’ll quip in typical Barb fashion. To Barb, Christianity is a journey, something she takes one day at a time. Along the way, some days are better than others. Some days can even be extraordinary—and June 20, 2003, was one of those days.

October 01, 2004 / Feature