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Cab Driver Can Not Donate Kidney to Passenger

  • Synopsis: Published: 2009-10-06 - Tom Chappell a Phoenix cab driver can not donate kidney to his passenger. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Mayo Clinic.
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A well intentioned Phoenix cab driver who was determined to donate a kidney to a passenger he drives to dialysis three times a week has been hit with a profound disappointment.

Phoenix Cab Driver Gets News He Can't Donate Kidney to Passenger

Tom Chappell on one-man mission to find kidney for dialysis patient

A well intentioned Phoenix cab driver who was determined to donate a kidney to a passenger he drives to dialysis three times a week has been hit with a profound disappointment.

Tom Chappell, who drives for VIP Taxi in Phoenix, was delivered the unsettling news by doctors at Mayo Clinic that although he is a blood and tissue match for his passenger, Rita Van Loenen, Gilbert, Ariz., he has other medical issues that disqualify him from being her kidney donor.

Chappell and Van Loenen made international headlines earlier in September when their story broke about "Cab Driver Offers to Donate Kidney to Near-Stranger." The story ran in many markets on Sept. 11, when media outlets were hungry to run uplifting stories of heroes and acts of human kindness.

While getting to know Van Loenen through repeated drives in his cab to her dialysis center (and doing research at his local library), he learned more about the seriousness of her condition - and her need for a kidney.

There is no doubting that Tom Chappell's heart was in the right place. It's just a matter of his kidneys.

Doctors at Mayo Clinic explained to Chappell "who, in addition to blood tests had undergone an exhaustive series of medical evaluations "that even though he and Van Loenen were a blood match, other medical issues would make it too risky for him to submit to the surgery. That means that Van Loenen must remain on a waiting list for a kidney. "Donor safety and the safety of our recipient is our main goal," he was told.

It was a message Chappell took very hard, confessing that he felt he was "letting Rita down," and expressing concern that she was deteriorating "and that "she needs a kidney, sooner rather than later." He repeatedly questioned the test results, stressing that he had never had a sick day, and that "being raised country," he was taught to tough it out and not bother doctors. "If we were sick, we just had a hot toddy, wrapped ourselves in blankets and sweated it out," he proudly announced. He also insists, "God sent me a message. The man upstairs wants me to do this!" And he reminded the medical team that he had even quit smoking in anticipation of being accepted as Van Loenen's donor.

But it wasn't to be.

"Tom has been an outstanding and positive role model for millions in the U.S.," said David Mulligan, M.D., chair, Division of Transplant Surgery at Mayo Clinic. "He is disappointed that he can't be Rita's donor, but he can take comfort in knowing he has been a hero in spreading the word about the need for organ donation."

Dr. Mulligan noted that the most generous, well intentioned potential living kidney donors can be disqualified for a number of medical reasons, and that each case is evaluated by a team of transplant professionals, including physicians, surgeons, social workers and psychiatrists. "The reality is that approximately only one in four people willing to donate are actually selected. Safety for both the donor and recipient is number one for us."

The publicity about the cab driver and the lady needing a kidney brought an unexpected and emotional bonus for Chappell. The daughter that Chappell had not seen or heard from for 30 years happened to catch TV coverage of the compelling story. Immediately she made the connection that they were talking about the father she had lost so long ago when her parents went through a difficult divorce.

"I was at home and I got a phone call," says Chappell. When the voice on the other end said simply, "This is your daughter," he admitted he went to the floor and wept. Hearing this new development, Chappell's boss at VIP Taxi, Jim Hickey, arranged for him to fly to Nashville to reunite with his daughter and her three children.

"She was born in 1973, but I immediately knew her face, and she knew mine. We were like two magnets coming together," says Chappell. "If I died this second, I could not be happier about connecting with my daughter and my three beautiful grandchildren."

As for Van Loenen, she says she thinks Chappell is taking the news about his not being able to donate his kidney to her "a bit harder than I am." She understands and respects the decision by the Mayo doctors to not take any chances with the safety and health of her new friend. She said she is overwhelmed with Chappell's kindness, his wonderful gesture and his friendship. "He knows dialysis is hard on me," she said, adding that he sometimes comes early to the dialysis center to pick her up, spending time keeping her company.

Despite the swirl of publicity that even extended to China (Chappell is recognized at airports and everywhere he goes) he now is on a singular mission: To find a kidney for Van Loenen. "I'm not going to stop. I have to finish what I started. I'm not a quitter. "

Mayo Clinic is the first and largest integrated, not-for-profit group practice in the world. As a leading academic medical center in the Southwest, Mayo Clinic focuses on providing specialty and surgical care in more than 65 disciplines at its outpatient facility in north Scottsdale and at Mayo Clinic Hospital. The 244-licensed bed hospital is located at 56th Street and Mayo Boulevard (north of Bell Road) in northeast Phoenix, and provides inpatient care to support the medical and surgical specialties of the clinic, which is located at 134th Street and Shea Boulevard in Scottsdale.





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