The Ultimate Gift

Ande Johnston, a Consumers Energy customer service representative from Lansing, Mich., learned at age 14 he would eventually need a kidney transplant due to Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD). Little did he know the donor would be his good friend and co-worker Randi Richards, a customer service representative from Lansing. Johnston’s planned donor, his father, was found to be a positive match, but during donor approval health testing doctors discovered Johnston’s dad had kidney stones and would not be able to donate his kidney.

Randi Richards (L) and Ande Johnston (R)
Randi Richards (L) and Ande Johnston (R)

After receiving the news about his dad, Ande Johnston went to Randi Richards’ office and told her he didn’t have a donor after all. It took awhile for the news to sink in because he was so young and looked so healthy, but once it did Richards knew she wanted to help.

“After a few days, things come to you and it seemed like the right thing to do,” said Richards. She was not the only one who wanted to help; about five other people got tested, including Richards’ husband Peter, who has been Johnston’s best friend since grade school.

Since Richards was the first, they waited to process any other blood tests until hers came back. When it did, they learned they had to look no farther.

Johnston’s kidney function was decreasing quickly and he was preparing to begin dialysis when Richards called with the news that the University of Michigan Transplant Board approved the transplant. “I really didn’t want to go that route,” Johnston said of dialysis. “I watched my mom go through it for a year and a half and your chance of keeping a kidney long term after dialysis is greatly decreased.” Thanks to the generosity of his friend, he would avoid it completely.

Both Johnston and Richards underwent successful surgeries on October 19. The recovery has been a little harder for the donor than the recipient, but that is often the case. “The surgery was really easy for me,” said Johnston, “I felt a little guilty; I would go see Randi and say, ‘Oh, please feel better.’”

Johnston and Richards were overwhelmed with the support they received from co-workers and supervisors.
“It impressed me how supportive everyone at work was, leading up to and after the surgery,” said Richards. Johnston agreed, “From flowers, to a call from my supervisor after surgery, to the cards and calls I’ve received from co-workers, everyone has been great.”

They are also happy with the attention their experience has brought to the importance of organ donation. Richards received an email from a co-worker who has a friend in need of a kidney and who Richards inspired to get tested.

Johnston knows his situation isn’t typical, “With my blood type it could have been an eight-year wait. Having my own donor was a big help. Without Randi it would have been waiting on a list, doing dialysis, and not having as good a chance of keeping the kidney long term.”

So how long will the kidney last? Johnston said thanks to avoiding dialysis, it could last 20 to 30 years. Richards has other ideas though, “Hopefully Ande will have that kidney forever.”

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