Within the last year, an Atlanta mother and her two sons have donated their kidneys to strangers, and all agree it’s the best thing they’ve ever done.

The donors, Amy Parker Zupancic, and her sons Caleb, 29, and Daniel McCracken, 31, came about their decision to donate altruistically through separate paths that had, upon retrospection, a strange symmetry.

The McCracken brothers, independently of each other, had read the same Twitter article about the shortage of anonymous kidney donors, which led them to investigate the steps needed to become donors.

The process, known as living non-directed organ donation, is one that rarely happens, despite a significant backlog of people who are in critical need of a new kidney.

According to a 2020 article in the Penn Medicine News, more than 90,000 patients are waiting for kidney transplants, yet only 20,000 are performed each year. More than 5,000 people on the waiting list die yearly without receiving a new kidney, the article said.

Last June, Caleb traveled to Atlanta’s Piedmont Hospital for the procedure, having matched with an anonymous recipient who was from the Midwest. However, tragedy struck when Caleb’s match came down with Covid-19 a few days before the operation, and had to drop out of the process.

Hospital officials quickly found a new local match for Caleb and the procedure went on as planned, Zupancic said.

“The young man who received the kidney said his mother had just passed away, and before she died, told him, ‘I think you are going to get your kidney soon,’” Zupancic said. “It was really touching to hear that.”

Daniel followed shortly after, donating his kidney anonymously last December, also at Piedmont, to another man in his 20s. That got Zupancic thinking that maybe she should do the same.

“I am walking around with two perfectly good kidneys, and I only really need one,” she recalled thinking to herself. “I decided to see if I could do it too.”

Zupancic, a graduate of Dunwoody High School who now lives in Blue Ridge, Ga., described herself as a “59-year-old person who is not in the greatest shape,” said she was surprised when she qualified to donate a kidney. The procedure took place on Oct. 20 and went off without a hitch.

“The recovery time was not as advertised,” she said. “I donated the kidney on Thursday and was back at work the following Tuesday.”

Daniel, however, didn’t have such an easy path. A few weeks after donating his kidney, he was rushed back to the hospital with acute appendicitis. Two operations within three weeks delayed his healing time, but he said he was back to full strength by February. He said he has no regrets.

“I had to undergo one unpleasant thing to help someone get their life back,” he said. “It feels good beyond anything else that I could have done through volunteering or giving money to an organization.”

In a Facebook message posted a few days after his donation, Caleb outlined his reasons for undergoing the process.

“The general outlook for someone on the kidney transplant waitlist is extremely bleak. Until they get a transplant, their only feasible treatment option is dialysis. On dialysis, they’ll be tethered to a machine for 4 hours a day, 3 days a week,” he wrote. “They’ll likely be constantly exhausted since dialysis can only replicate about 10% of normal kidney function. This makes it extremely difficult to hold down a job, travel, or live a normal life in general.”

By donating a kidney, Caleb wrote, the quality of life for the recipient is improved dramatically, while the donor’s is essentially unimpacted.

“Your life, on the other hand, will largely be unaffected in the long-term,” he said.  “Ultimately, donating a kidney allows you to trade about a month of discomfort in exchange for someone else gaining many high-quality years of life.”

Zupancic said she feels the same.

“If I haven’t done anything else right in my life, this is one thing that I did that I know is good,” she said.

Zupancic encourages others to visit the National Kidney Foundation (www.kidney.org) to investigate the steps needed to become a donor.

Cathy Cobbs

Cathy Cobbs covers Dunwoody for Reporter Newspapers and Rough Draft Atlanta. She can be reached at cathy@roughdraftatlanta.com