Summer 2015

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From ‘Like’ to Life: An Altruistic Donation

When Emily Gerardo, a nurse with experience in long-term care and emergency rooms, heard that Ruth Smillie, a nurse and nursing professor, needed a kidney, the decision to offer Smillie one of her own didn’t take long. “Ruth is a great person with a passion for teaching and the great outdoors. I had a lot of respect for her,” said Gerardo.

Though not close friends, the two had met a year earlier, volunteering for a medical mission to Senegal West Africa through the Portland, Maine-based organization Partners for World Health. “Ruth had brought six nursing students from Saint Joseph’s College with her on the mission. I was giving them guidance on how to work with the Senegalese people.”

The two nurses connected through Facebook, and it was there that Gerardo spotted Smillie’s post:

“I have polycystic kidney disease. If you know anyone willing to donate a kidney, please contact me.”

While Gerardo admits that kidney donation wasn’t on her ‘bucket list,’ she felt a need to do something. A friend of hers from high school had gone through the same thing, and her experience as an EMT working with dialysis patients gave her an intimate understanding of a very difficult, debilitating disease.  “She has a zest for living,” Gerardo said of Smillie, “which I knew dialysis would likely destroy.” 

Gerardo first contacted Smillie, then medical professionals helped determine her A+ blood type was a perfect match. On December 14, 2014, surgeons removed a kidney from Gerardo and implanted it into Smillie. It was a success. 

Gerardo feels great physically and emotionally. And Smillie is living up to her name, beaming every day knowing Gerardo’s gift has restored her zest for life.