Gift of Life: Strangers become best friends, organ donor advocates through kidney donation

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Wednesday, February 12, 2020
Strangers become best friends, organ donor advocates through kidney donation
Organ donations are life-changing for everyone involved. Breanna Sipple's gift to Erin Francis turned strangers into best friends.

WARRINGTON, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- The gift of life is priceless and donations prove to be life-changing for everyone involved.

For the 12th straight year, the Philadelphia area leads the nation in organ donation. But there's always a need for more registered donors.

Two young women united by their transplant experience are really helping that campaign along.

Breanna Sipple and Erin Francis aren't just best friends. They are 'Team Be More,' with an Instagram page that's a virtual meeting place for people who've received transplants, those looking for donors, and donor awareness.

It was all driven by Breanna's extraordinary gift to Erin - a kidney.

The two were strangers until Breanna saw a Facebook post by Erin's husband, detailing the disease which damaged her kidney, and looking for a donor for Erin.

"Something just came over me, and i was just like crying and I knew that I was this person's donor," said Breanna.

Secretly, Breanna began the process of getting tested, making a video journal of her effort.

Erin didn't know about that process till Breanna posted the video journal, devastated she'd been rejected as a donor due to high blood pressure.

"I just got a phone call that I'm unable to be the organ donor. I've got so many emotions," said Breanna.

"Even today, I think about it all the time. I can't believe someone actually wanted to do that for me," said Erin.

After they met face-to-face, the two decided to get tested again at another hospital. That's when Breanna learned she didn't have high blood pressure, just what's commonly called "white coat hypertension."

"Every time I would get my blood pressure checked in a hospital setting, it was obviously high because I was nervous," said Breanna. "I'd never been in the hospital or had surgery, so I was super-nervous."

The transplant went through, and just a day after the surgery, Breanna took a special walk.

"Breanna actually came to my room, walked to my room all on her own to see me," said Erin.

She also gave her a big hug. Both say the transplant changed their lives.

"I really truly feel like my life didn't start until the day I decided to become an organ donor," said Breanna.

"This person just completely saved your life and gave you a new fresh start," said Erin.

After recovering, the two launched Team Be More in support of living kidney donation. Each has "Be More" tattooed on their forearms, further bonding their lives.

Their Instagram page is filled with donor awareness messages, transplant stories and celebrations, and appeals from those seeking a gift of life for themselves or loved ones.

Breanna urges others to consider living donation.

"It's okay to be scared, but it's going to be the most amazing journey of your entire life. So, take the leap," she said

Last year nearly 300 people in our region became living donors.

"You can live a perfectly normal life with one kidney," notes Howard Nathan, CEO of the Gift of Life Organ Donor Program. "You know, the first transplants were actually living donors. And that was in the 1950s."

He says some people anonymously donate kidneys, handled through Gift of Life. Potential donors who don't match the person they want to donate to needn't worry, thanks to the rising number of "paired matches."

These pair potential donors with those in need around the nation, to find a match. Then a "swap" is made, finding a donor to match the original person in need.

"Last year, Gift of Life actually coordinated 41 paired exchanges," said Nathan. "More than 600 people (nationwide) received kidneys through this paired exchange program. I think it's incredible."

If you're interested in donating, the Gift of Life will put you in touch with area transplant centers.