After life-saving help from a stranger, Lovettsville resident Amy Samulenas is home recovering from kidney transplant surgery.
The 38-year-old had been struggling with kidney disease since the age of 10, but was informed by her doctors three years ago that she needed a new kidney to save her life.
Samulenas’ search for a donor was featured in a January issue of Loudoun Now, and quickly attracted international attention as her story was shared with the Air Force community thanks to her husband’s military career. About 40 people came forward to see if they would be a kidney match, Samulenas said.
One of those was Matt Staggs, a technical sergeant in the Air Force and a Maryland resident. He read about Samulenas’ plight in a weekly newsletter published bythe Public Affairs Office of the Air Force’s 70th Wing. Staggs said he always knew he wanted to be an organ donor and immediately reached out to Walter Reed Medical Center to see if he was a match.
“What thrills me most about this experience is that I got the opportunity to donate to someone else while I am still alive, and get to live to see that person enjoy their new life. And in this case, their new kidney,” he said.
Samulenas and her husband, Brent, were at one of her dialysis appointments when they got the news there was a match and the donor was eager to help.
A week after finding out, Samulenas and Staggs were both in the hospital for surgery. They met at Walter Reed for the first time the night before.
“We were walking in the hospital hallways and I heard someone saying my name,” Samulenas recalled. “I saw my donor and all that I could say was ‘wow wow wow.’ Nothing else was going through my mind. It was an experience you never think you’re going to experience.”
Staggs said it was a happy moment for both of them with “a lot of hugging and crying.”
The two now consider each other family, referring to each other as brother and sister. They are both home from the hospital, recovering from their surgeries. Samulenas is on a host of anti-rejection medications, which come with their share of side effects. “But I’m not complaining,” she said.
She and her husband are settling into their post-transplant life with their dogs Cyraneau and Maverick. Among the things she is looking forward to once recovered, other than no longer having to trek to Walter Reed three times a week for dialysis appointments, are things she didn’t previously have the stamina to do—white water rafting, hiking, tubing and indoor skydiving, to name a few.
She cries while expressing her gratitude to Staggs, and for the support of her husband’s military community.
“Somebody literally gave me a second chance at life,” she said. “Without it, I would’ve been gone in maybe a year or two. Words can’t describe my gratitude and my thanks.”