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Franklin native donates kidney, setting off chain

Justin Tourigny sprang into action after seeing his subcontractor Roland Davis’ big sign on his rear truck window in late October 2020 advertising his wife Betsy’s need for a kidney donor with Type O blood.

After discussing the construction job with Roland, Tourigny casually mentioned that he had the same blood type as his wife — at which point Roland became very excited.

Tourigny, a Franklin native, completed three months of physical/mental testing. Afterward, he learned his kidneys were fine and that he could donate one.

Also, the former scientist was a definite match for Betsy, he said during a June telephone interview. However, he was very much interested in the National Kidney Registry’s “non-directed donation program,” which would allow a chain to form so at least two people, including Betsy, could get kidneys and potentially more than that.

“And some of those chains are upwards of 40 people, depending on circumstances and timing,” he said.

Since Tourigny was going to give up a part of himself voluntarily, he said he wanted to help as many people as possible.

“So that means if I could affect at least two people that seemed like a plus, and potentially eight or nine, even better,” said Tourigny, 39, who now lives in Portland, Maine and owns Halcyon Built, a construction company.

Betsy Davis, 55, said in an email that she wasn’t frustrated that Tourigny wanted to go through NKR instead of donating directly to her.

“It’s a BIG ask of someone to give up an organ for someone,” she said. “At that point, I didn’t know Justin – only by name. We had never met. I was just grateful that anyone would even consider donating.”

Betsy was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease (PKD) in 2009 after complaining that she felt “tired all the time.” PKD is a genetic disease, according to www.kidney.org, which causes fluid-filled cysts to grow in the kidneys, potentially causing damage. The cysts reduce kidney function and eventually lead to kidney failure.

The site also states, “About 60-70 percent of your body weight is made up of water, and every part of your body needs it to function properly,” which is why it is important to drink a lot of water. “Dehydration happens when you lose an excess amount of this important body water.”

Tourigny said he likes being an indirect donor, because it allows for “a little bit of separation from the recipient,” which means he doesn’t have to “worry or stress” about his kidney donation and whether it “takes or not, or if that person has a short untimely death after” he donates, “or if that person makes bad lifestyle choices.”

The NKR website, www.kidneyregistry.org, states, “The odds of knowing someone who has had experience with transplantation are high. Over 6,000 people donate their kidney every year and over 100,000 people are in need of a kidney transplant each year.

“If there is someone in your life who needs a kidney, there are multiple ways to proceed. You can help them by becoming a living donor, but if you are not able to donate or donating is not the path for you, there are other ways to help. You can share someone’s need for a kidney on social media, in your local community, at church, etc., to help them find a donor.”

The NKR was founded in 2007 after Greenwich residents Garet Hil and his wife were “deemed incompatible” donors when their 10-year-old daughter was diagnosed with kidney failure, according to the nonprofit organization’s website. The “difficult and extensive donor search finally resulted in a successful transplant for their daughter. That process inspired them to create a better way to facilitate transplants for the thousands of people with incompatible donors in desperate need of a kidney transplant.”

In early May, Tourigny’s kidney was removed at Maine Medical Center, at which time he said the surgeon made four incisions for the camera, tools and to remove the organ. After two days in the hospital, he went home. By the fifth week he was “digging holes and lifting things,” and shortly after the six-week mark, he said he was 98 percent recovered “and may start running and swimming again.”

With “20 percent or less kidney function,” Davis was placed on the transplant list in December 2019. Her transplant surgery took place on July 9 at Maine Medical Center. “My husband was still getting calls from people (donors) right up to my surgery date and I told him to call them back and encourage people to still go through the process,” adding there are “plenty of people in need.”

She said she feels like she “had major surgery,” but her appetite is “slowly returning.” Her surgeon told her “it would be two to three months before I get my energy back and really feel good” and that in time her new kidney would grow to compensate for having just one good kidney.

“I have social anxiety and (during) the past year it has been off the charts. Anxiety is a ‘side effect’ of kidney disease. I’m looking forward to that being better. They also tell me I will probably not have as many allergies which is also great and I’m looking forward to that too! My kidney function is around 37 percent as of yesterday (July 21), but it’s way better than the 14 percent I was at pre-surgery.”

Betsy said, “It feels really good” knowing that she has a healthy kidney and that she is “forever indebted” to Tourigny.

The idea of donating a kidney has been in the back of Tourigny’s mind ever since he read a New Yorker magazine article in 2004 about a man who “just showed up at a hospital” and donated his kidney without even telling his family or wife (who was against the surgery). “As crazy as it was, it piqued my interest a little bit, because I didn’t know that it was even possible,” Tourigny said.

He added he hopes reading this article makes it “personal” for people and helps them to understand that they can donate a kidney “and come out the other side and it feels good.”

For more information about the National Kidney Registry, a nonprofit organization, or becoming a donor/recipient, go to its website, www.kidneyregistry.org.

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