By CHERIL VERNON
A Palestine woman will be walking in honor and memory of her mother — a two-time live donor kidney transplant patient with a unique story — in the 2013 Dallas Kidney Walk next week.
Cherry Staff, who moved to Palestine with her husband on Oct. 19, 2012, will be walking in honor of her mother, Kay Kilgore Burt, who, according to her family, was among the longest surviving kidney transplant patients in the world. She was the fifth kidney transplant recipient in Texas (receiving her first kidney transplant in 1966), the first kidney transplant patient in the United States to receive a kidney from a member of the opposite sex, and the first major organ transplant patient, at that time, to have a baby with both mother and child surviving with no major complications.
Kay Burt’s Story
Burt, who was reared in Waco and Mesquite, lived in North Texas most of her life. She had a transplanted kidney for almost 48 years. The problems started for her at age 12, when doctors said she was in end-stage renal failure, due to her kidneys not growing properly, instead, they were the size of a 3-year-old child’s kidneys.
“Momma spent the most of the next three years in Parkland Hospital in Dallas. Doctors told my grandparents to start making funeral arrangements because she was not expected to live much longer,” Staff said. “Dr. Wadi Suki and Dr. Paul Conrad Peters heard about a new procedure — a kidney transplant — and wanted to try one on my Momma.”
At first, Burt refused, too scared to have surgery. She was wasting away, at one time down to 57 pounds due to her long stay in the hospital. There, her days revolved around six hours of dialysis.
She later chose to have the surgery, because the doctors told her there was a good chance of success. It was 1966. At that time, her chance for survival after 10 years was less than 35 percent.
According to the Southwest Transplant Alliance, only 10 percent of that era’s transplant recipients sustained a new kidney for more than three months.
“She wanted to live, to be a cheerleader and model, to get married one day and have children,” Burt said.
Burt’s parents were tested as possible donors, with her father Charles Kilgore, considered almost as good a match as an identical twin.
“Momma had her transplant and came through this new procedure with flying colors. She made the cheerleading squad, she modeled for years, and she married my father,” Staff said.
In 1971, Burt gave birth to her daughter, Cherry — who doctors called a 690 million-to-one miracle baby.
“The doctors had told her she was never supposed to get pregnant, because there were so very few women who had after a major organ transplant. The ones who had, had not survived, or the baby did not survive, there were not grave complications to either mother, child or both,” Staff said. “Momma thumbed her nose at them and got pregnant with me anyways. Her pregnancy was pretty routine, except for bed rest the last few months because her doctors were mortified and scared she would die on them.”
In 1998, two weeks after Burt’s father passed away, the kidney he gave her failed. At age 28, Staff tested to be a donor and was considered a good match. She donated a kidney to her mother on Nov. 11, 1999.
“That kidney lasted her 13 years, which is seven more than a second transplanted kidney is expected to last,” Staff said.
Over the years, Burt was interviewed by Dateline NBC and the Dallas Morning News.
Burt passed away on Nov. 19, 2012 at the age of 61 from end stage renal failure.
Walking for Awareness
Staff will be participating in the National Kidney Foundation’s 2013 Dallas Kidney Walk on Saturday, April 27 at Lindsley Park.
“My Momma was very active with the National Kidney Foundation and United Network for Organ Sharing until she got sick a few years ago and lost her mobility. I am trying very hard to carry her passion for those two organizations,” Staff said. “The walk has been important to me for years. I grew up knowing that Momma was a transplant recipient, and that she probably wouldn’t live to see me become an adult. She was always active with the NKF, and was the North Texas spokesperson for them for several years when I was little. I knew what they raised money for and how it helped people, as well as providing money for research, early screenings and educating people on the signs of kidney disease. I was a very inquisitive kid and I think I usually asked her doctors more questions than she did when she went for check-ups.”
Now that her mother has passed away, the walk has grown in importance for Staff.
“I walk to honor her life — her long, full life — the one doctors, and even myself never thought she would have, and I walk to spread the word about the importance of organ donation,” Staff said. “I wouldn’t be alive today either if not for my Pa-Pa donating a kidney to Momma.”
To support Staff on this walk, the public can sponsor her with a donation, join her walk team, either as a physical walker or as an online walker. Visit http://donate.kidney.com. Put in Cherry Staff’s name in the search field, where you can then donate to her personal goal or to the team’s fund-raising goal. Donations are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law and online donors get an immediate receipt emailed to them.
“I do have a walk team (Kay’s Boot Scooters) and also a personal fundraiser site on the kidney walk site,” Staff said. “People don’t have to donate specifically to me in the Kidney Walk, although it would be awesome if they did.”
To donate directly to the National Kidney Foundation, visit www.kidney.org and click on the orange “donate” button on the top right of the page.
“People can donate online there with a memorial gift, an honor gift or a general donation. A donation by mail may also be made by downloading a donation form and mailing it in with their check,” Staff said.
For Staff, walking in the 2013 Dallas Kidney Walk is therapy.
“It’s therapy of a sort for me — a way for me to feel a bit closer to her still,” Staff said.