What would you do to save the life of a family member, a friend, an acquaintance? For Ellen Druebbisch the answer was, “Give him one of my kidneys.” On May 19, that is just what she did. The 22-year-old donated a kidney to 19-year-old Brenden Harrison.

It was not a decision she took lightly. She sought council from her parents and others, and in the end felt it was something she should do.

“Once I found out I was a match, it was hard to say no knowing I could help someone,” Druebbisch said.

Harrison and Druebbisch were on the Cedarwood Swim Team together. She later became a swim coach and lifeguard, but the two continued to hang out in the same crowd.

“When I saw a Facebook post from Brenden’s mother, asking if anyone was willing to donate a kidney to her son, I felt bad, but did not think there was much I could do,” Druebbisch said. “When I went back to the post and saw we had the same blood type I decided to be tested.”

Druebbisch contacted the organ donor center at Wake Forest Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, but did not tell Harrison what she was doing. She did not want to get his hopes up in case she was not a good match.

“Knowing Brenden made the idea of an organ donation more compelling,” Druebbisch said. “When I found out I was a match, I wrote him a letter and put it, along with a can of kidney beans, in his mailbox and told him to call me. I explained the transplant team at Wake Forest Baptist was already setting up a date for surgery.”

Druebbisch, a rising senior at the University of Lynchburg in Virginia, and Harrison, a rising sophomore at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, completed their spring semesters in school, then followed quarantine measures to insure they did not contract an illness before the surgery.

For Harrison, the son of Cindy and Larry Harrison, it was the wait of a lifetime. He had been born with the inability to make platelets, which resulted in his kidney deficiency. Many people were not aware of his physical problems since he had always been very active – playing football at Andrews High School and participating on the Cedarwood neighborhood swim team. But by November of 2019 his kidney function had dropped to only 20 percent and he was placed on a transplant list.

When he received the letter from Druebbisch explaining she planned to give him a kidney, his feelings ran the gamut from surprise to relief to thankfulness.

“I was so glad I got a match and did not have to wait any longer,” he said. “It also meant I would not have to go on dialysis, which is hard on your body.”

Both Harrison and Druebbisch are home now continuing to recuperate from their surgeries. Friends before, the two feel they have more of a connection now.

Druebbisch is looking forward to returning to college and finishing her degree in biomedical science. She also will continue competing on the school’s tennis team.  

“I think organ donation is great,” she said. “It puts your life on hold for a little while, but the risk of surgery is worth it to help someone.”

In the fall, Harrison plans to resume his studies toward a degree in psychology, which he hopes to use as a marriage counselor.

“I have received an extension of life,” he said. “I want to just continue being me.”

To learn more about being an organ donor, contact the Living Donor Coordination Center at Wake Forest Medical Center at 336-713-5686 or email livingdonation@wakehealth.edu

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