Facebook friendship leads to kidney search

Feb 21, 2018

Patricia Kehoe hopes an unexpected Facebook friendship and a grassroots advertising blitz will lead to a match on which her life depends.

The Dartmouth woman has been suffering from kidney failure since October 2014. It has brought her life to a standstill as she goes through treatment and awaits a donor match for a kidney transplant.

Now, signs are springing up on major streets and quiet cul-du-sacs across Dartmouth with one message: "Kidney urgently needed. Type A or O. Call Patricia. (508) 642-2880." It’s all thanks to an unexpected connection with a complete stranger going through a similar experience.

That connection occurred on the Dartmouth-centric community Facebook page Dartmouth Helping Dartmouth, when Stephanie Macedo issued a plea to the community to help her father Daniel Desmarais find a kidney donor.

Desmarais’ family created lawn signs and were asking members of the community for permission to post them on front lawns.

Kehoe jokingly replied she’d put a sign for him on her lawn if she could get one right next to his, explaining she had driven around for two years with a sign on the back of her car.

The post triggered an instant friendship between the two families. Kehoe and Macedo met for coffee at Starbucks shortly after their first Facebook exchange. Kehoe distinctly remembers Macedo walking into the coffee shop, laptop in hand, ready to work.

Desmarais was released from the hospital on Friday with a new kidney he received following an unexpected death in a college friend’s family.

Now, they are shifting their efforts to help Kehoe find her own match.

Paying it forward was the reason behind it all, Macedo said.

“We’ve been given this gift of extra time with my dad and there’s just no way to repay that kind of gift,” Macedo said. “The only right thing to do, the only thing that felt right for us, was to try and pay it forward and help somebody else.”

Macedo took the initiative of getting signs made for Kehoe. Initially, Macedo’s family offered to pay for the signs, but Macedo’s husband’s company reached out and paid for the signs instead.

“I said I want to see how we can help shift this positive momentum that has come our way and switch gears and capitalize on it, because the community kind of just rallied around us,” Macedo said. “I really wanted to use that momentum and kind of turn it toward Patricia because she obviously needed it too.”

The first batch of 35 signs have all been handed out to various businesses and residents. There have been so many responses to Kehoe’s Facebook post that more signs are needed.

With fingers crossed, Kehoe is hoping everything works out.

It isn’t just about her anymore though, rather it’s also about her family and the next person she can help.

Kehoe’s three-year-old granddaughter doesn’t quite understand the magnitude of the situation, but she helps her grandma when she can. That included posing with Macedo’s daughter while holding a sign about her grandma.

For Kehoe, a new kidney means doing activities with her granddaughter that she is unable to do now.

Everything from playing at the park to going swimming in the pool is off limits. Kehoe finds many activities too tiring to participate in now, so she’s limited to short walks and uses monthly shots to boost her energy - although the shots are not as effective.

Initially, her husband Ken tried to donate a kidney, but he was ruled out because he previously had colon cancer.

He recently retired, and dreams of going on cruises among other various adventures, but he won’t leave his wife’s side while she’s sick.

Kehoe is also nervous that a match will be found while she’s out on a cruise and she could miss it. It’s also hard to bring all the medical equipment every time she wants to go somewhere, she said.

But she remains hopeful that every time she places a sign, someone will see it and get tested.

“I tend to be an optimistic person and I know there’s a lady testing for me now,” Kehoe said. “I remain hopeful, and like, Stephanie’s been great. She messaged me yesterday ‘We’re going to get you a kidney’ and it gets me excited.”

Currently, Kehoe said one person is testing tissue to see if she’s a match, and there is another woman who recently reached out.

When Kehoe gets her kidney, she too said she will begin paying it forward, but by reaching out to lawmakers to change organ donation registration to an opt out system.

This would mean someone is automatically an organ donor unless they decide to opt out.

“Only 48 percent of Americans are registered organ donors and that is sad because you cannot take it with you,” Kehoe said. “You cannot take your parts with you.”

According to the Department of Health and Human Services there is about 115,000 people on the organ transplant list with 80 percent waiting for a kidney.