Giving the Ultimate Gift

Austin woman is first to donate a kidney through the Abdominal Transplant Center to someone she has never met

Reviewed by: Victoria Threadgould and Nicole Turgeon, MD, FACS
Written by: Erich Pelletier

Victoria Threadgould's husband leans over her hospital bed and smiles alongside her in preop.

Victoria Threadgould is a 39-year-old marathon runner, Pilates instructor, and grant writer who has lived in Austin, Texas for the last ten years. When Victoria came across an announcement about the opening of the Abdominal Transplant Center, a clinical partnership between Ascension Seton and UT Health Austin, last November, she reached out and inquired about becoming a living kidney donor. By the end of 2021, she was approved to donate.

Altruistic, or “nondirected,” donation is a rare but increasingly popular form of living organ donation that allows healthy people to help improve and save the lives of patients living with kidney failure. While the majority of kidney transplants occur with organs retrieved from donors who are deceased, between 5,000 and 6,000 kidney transplants in the U.S. annually use kidneys that come from living donors. Each year, approximately 300 of those living donors participate in a process in which one of their kidneys is procured for use by a patient who is unknown to the donor but who is an approved match for the donated organ.

Learn more about the Living Kidney Donor Program within the Abdominal Transplant Center.

The Need

Over 90,000 people in the United States are currently waiting to receive a donated kidney. For some, that wait can extend for years, during which many patients must undergo regular dialysis treatments to remove toxins from their blood. Patients with chronic kidney disease can experience pain and severe limitations in day-to-day life while they wait for a donated organ to become available for transplantation.

Nondirected living organ donors have become increasingly important in recent years to meet the growing need for organs for transplantation and to fill a shortage of available organs from deceased donors. Nondirected living organ donors are often vital to linking several pairs of incompatible donor and recipient pairs to form a donation chain, thereby benefiting multiple patients in need.

Living kidney donation also has the benefit of better outcomes over time. The 3-year survival rate for patients receiving a kidney from a living donor is 94%. Patients who receive kidneys from deceased donors have a 3-year survival rate of 88%. While organ longevity can differ widely by patient, kidneys from living donors can be expected to last an average of 10-13 years, whereas kidneys from deceased donors generally last an average of 7-9 years.

Victoria Threadgould and crocheted kidneys
Victoria Threadgould crocheted kidneys before her procedure and plans to crochet more for the members of her care team at the Abdominal Transplant Center.

Victoria’s Response

Victoria was inspired to become an altruistic kidney donor by a desire to leverage her own health as an athlete to help others. “I don’t really know anyone with kidney disease, but I am quite fit and healthy. I run, and I ride my bike. My husband and I participate in all the local races. I teach Pilates. I look after my body,” shares Victoria. “My husband and I were hiking in a state park, and I was thinking, ‘What can I do to help other people? How can I use my health and fitness to help others?’”

After some initial research, which included joining a Facebook group (Kidney Donor Athletes) and speaking with a living donor, Victoria began the process of becoming a living donor through the National Kidney Registry and reached out to the newly opened Abdominal Transplant Center.

Following a rigorous series of physical and mental health screenings and tests, Victoria’s kidney donation was approved. On February 24, 2022, she became the Abdominal Transplant Center’s first altruistic donor and second patient to undergo kidney procurement surgery. The procedure to remove Victoria’s left kidney was led by UT Health Austin abdominal transplant surgeon Nicole Turgeon, MD, FACS, who serves as the Transplant Director for the Abdominal Transplant Center. Victoria’s healthy kidney was flown from Austin to New York, where it was given to a patient living with kidney failure later that day.

Victoria Threadgould and Therapy Dog
Victoria Threadgould gets a visit from a therapy dog named Yeti at Dell Seton Medical Center. This was one of her requests the day after her procedure.

Read about Dom, the first patient to undergo a kidney transplant at the Abdominal Transplant Center.

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Victoria appreciates the fact that her kidney donation will initiate a string of donations benefiting several kidney patients. “Being part of the National Kidney Registry’s paired exchange donation program means my kidney will go to a recipient and, in turn, their kidney donor, someone who wasn’t a direct match to them, will donate to another recipient and so on and so forth. In total, I’m part of a chain where four people will receive kidneys from donors,” explains Victoria. “It also means that at some point, the Abdominal Transplant Center is likely to receive a kidney from the registry to transplant in another person living in Austin.”

After 2-3 days in the hospital and with several weeks of recovery, Victoria can expect to return to her normal, active life. While the surgical procedure to procure an organ from a living patient does come with risks, living with a single kidney does not change overall life expectancy and does not appear to increase the risk of kidney failure in the donor’s future.

“I’ll have annual checks to make sure blood levels are okay. But without any kind of family medical history of chronic disease, I’m confident that I can live with one kidney and still be active and healthy,” says Victoria.

Another benefit of Victoria’s living donor status is that if she were ever to need a new kidney in the future, she would be placed higher on the National Kidney Registry’s list to receive one.

“It’s great to be part of something that is bigger than me and my kidney,” shares Victoria. “I’m so glad I’ve done this journey, and I hope I can share my story with others and inspire them to become living kidney donors.”

“I would encourage as many people as possible to take that first step,” she continues. “Do the research. Connect with the transplant center. You can potentially help someone improve their quality of life and sustain someone’s life. I hope more people will consider participating.”

Victoria Threadgould
Victoria Threadgould is applauded by caregivers of the Abdominal Transplant Center who line the halls as she travels from her room to the operating room for surgery.

To be considered for living kidney donation, please complete the online medical screening questionnaire.

The Abdominal Transplant Center will also offer services for patients in need of a pancreas transplant and those who may need a simultaneous kidney and pancreas transplant later this year. The Abdominal Transplant Center hopes to develop a liver program in the next 3-5 years. Patients in need of a pancreas or liver transplant currently have to travel to San Antonio, Houston, or Dallas to receive care.

For more information about the Abdominal Transplant Center or to make an appointment, please call 1-512-324-7930 or visit here.

About the Partnership Between UT Health Austin and Ascension Seton

The collaboration between UT Health Austin and Ascension brings together medical professionals, medical school learners, and researchers who are all part of the integrated mission of transforming healthcare delivery and redesigning the academic health environment to better serve society. This collaboration allows highly specialized providers who are at the forefront of the latest research, diagnostic, and technological developments to build an integrated system of care that is a collaborative resource for clinicians and their patients.

About UT Health Austin

UT Health Austin is the clinical practice of the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin. We collaborate with our colleagues at the Dell Medical School and The University of Texas at Austin to utilize the latest research, diagnostic, and treatment techniques, allowing us to provide patients with an unparalleled quality of care. Our experienced healthcare professionals deliver personalized, whole-person care of uncompromising quality and treat each patient as an individual with unique circumstances, priorities, and beliefs. Working directly with you, your care team creates an individualized care plan to help you reach the goals that matter most to you — in the care room and beyond. For more information, call us at 1-833-UT-CARES or request an appointment here.