Jen Benson McKenna & Brian McKenna have joined Donor to Donor to help patients in need of an organ transplant to better understand how to manage the process of seeking an organ from a live or a deceased donor. Jen received a double kidney-pancreas transplant from a deceased donor. They have extensive experience with the process as a recipient. Here is their story:

Brian and I were married in October, 2009. One week after returning from our honeymoon, I was told I would have to start kidney dialysis. Two weeks later I did. That moment started a journey for which neither one of us had signed up. I had been a diabetic since I was 11 years old and a kidney stone had landed me in the hospital. With slightly compromised kidneys, the stress on the kidney because of the stone and septic shock provided a near death experience; by 2009 my kidneys had failed.

In November, 2009 I started on dialysis three times a week for four hours each time. I was 30 years old. After a lot of information gathering and researching by my family, we selected several transplant centers which performed numerous SKPs (simultaneous kidney/pancreas) transplants in different regions around the US. My goal was to rid my body of both kidney failure and diabetes in one surgery. I was on the transplant list waiting for a deceased donor for six years. I required a deceased donor because I was in need of a pancreas.

Because of the diabetes, I had a compromised immune system and by adding the dialysis to the mix I had a much higher likelihood of getting infections. My infections ranged from pneumonia on several occasions, to shingles, to blood and stomach infections, to multiple skin wounds. One skin infection required a wound vac be placed on my leg for one month. With all these infections we had people and nurses in and out of our house constantly.

During the dialysis and multiple infections I was also incorrectly diagnosed with a host of other problems, ranging from brain cancer to MS to a collapsed lung. We were in and out of the hospital constantly, mainly due to stroke-level blood pressures. Often, my medications would not work and I had to be admitted for several days with intravenous medication to bring it down to a safe level. These diagnoses were due to multiple complications and symptoms that I had from the stress and strain on the body of being a diabetic and undergoing dialysis. 

In August 2015 I received a kidney and pancreas transplant from a deceased donor at Columbia Presbyterian. I was in the hospital for 11 days. I left the hospital at 92 lbs, free of kidney failure and Type 1 diabetes. Now the only medications that I take are for the transplant; these are anti-rejection medications.

At a healthy 115 lbs., no dialysis and no more daily insulin injections are required. My life has dramatically improved. Both Brian and I have a new lease on life due to my donor. We appreciate that our lives have changed so much because an amazingly courageous family donated their 19 year-old son’s organs when he passed unexpectedly. There were several other transplant patients who benefited from their generous gift who are alive today to share their own stories. This is why organ donation is so important to me, Brian and my family. The act of donating provides others in need with the chance to lead a full and productive life.