Over the past 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, decided to give selflessly through separate paths that had, in retrospect, an odd symmetry.
The McCracken brothers, independently of each other, had read the same Twitter post about the shortage of anonymous kidney donors, which led them to investigate the steps needed to become donors.
The process, known as undirected living organ donation, is one that happens rarely, despite a large backlog of people who are in critical need of a new kidney.
According to a 2020 Penn Medicine News article, more than 90,000 patients are waiting for kidney transplants, but only 20,000 are performed each year. More than 5,000 people on the waiting list die each year without receiving a new kidney, according to the article.
Last June, Caleb checked himself into Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta for the procedure, after being matched with an unnamed recipient from the Midwest. However, tragedy struck when Caleb’s match went down with Covid-19 days before the operation and had to abandon the process.
Hospital officials quickly found a new local match for Caleb and the procedure went according to plan, Zupancic said.
“The young man who received the kidney said his mother had just passed away and before she died said to her, ‘I think you’re going to have your kidney soon,'” Zupancic said. “It was really touching to hear that.”
Daniel followed soon after, donating his kidney anonymously last December, also in Piedmont, to another man in his twenties. This made Zupancic think maybe she should do the same.
“I walk around with two kidneys in perfect condition, and I really only 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, Georgia, described herself as a “59-year-old who is not in top shape,” said she was surprised when she walked in. is qualified to donate a kidney. The procedure took place on October 20 and went 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, did not have such an easy path. A few weeks after donating his kidney, he was rushed back to hospital with acute appendicitis. Two operations in three weeks delayed his healing time, but he said he was back at full strength in February. He said he had no regrets.
“I had to go through something nasty to help someone get their life back,” he said. “It feels good beyond anything I could have done by volunteering or donating money to an organization.”
In a Facebook post a few days after his donation, Caleb explained his reasons for going through the process.
“The overall outlook for someone on the kidney transplant waiting list is extremely bleak. Until they get a transplant, their only possible treatment option is dialysis. On dialysis, they will be attached to a machine for 4 hours a day, 3 days a week,” he wrote. “They will probably be constantly exhausted since dialysis can only reproduce about 10% of normal kidney function. This makes it extremely difficult to hold down a job, travel, or lead a normal life in general.
By donating a kidney, Caleb wrote, the recipient’s quality of life is dramatically improved, while the donor’s is virtually unaffected.
“Your life, on the other hand, will be largely unaffected in the long run,” he said. “At the end of the day, donating a kidney allows you to trade about a month of discomfort in exchange for someone else gaining many years of high-quality life.”
Zupancic said she felt the same.
“If I haven’t done anything else good in my life, it’s something I’ve done that I know is good,” she said.
Zupancic encourages others to visit the National Kidney Foundation (www.kidney.org) to study the steps needed to become a donor.