Before this year, Nicole Langley, 26, and Jayme Jahns, 32, both of Graham, were complete strangers.
Then a simple Facebook ad changed their lives and now, during a recent phone interview, they practically finished each other’s sentences.
Those new ties came together July 18, when Langley donated one of her kidneys to Jahns. The surgery was performed at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. Both women are back home and recovering.
While kidney donations are common among family members, that’s not how this one plays out.
Jahns’ relatives were not a good match. Already at stage 5 kidney failure, Jahns grew afraid she wouldn’t find a match.
She posted her request for a donor on a Puyallup Moms Facebook page.
“I made a Facebook ad collage of pictures and said, ‘I’m AB-positive looking for donor’ and included the website to apply,” Jahns said. “The group is always really helpful and I thought if nothing came of it, no big deal.”
Something did come of it.
Langley saw the ad and was one of three people to respond and go for the testing to see whether they were a match.
“When I saw her post and then applied, I had an overwhelming sensation it would be me to donate,” Langley said.
Her intuition was correct. Langley was not just a match, she matched perfectly across six antigen factors measured, according to the UW Medical Center.
With Langley not being a relative, that in and of itself is remarkable. Some estimates put the odds at one in 100,000.
To put it another way, “Definitely they can be sisters,” said Dr. Nicolae Leca, medical director of kidney transplant for UW Medicine.
Langley, a mother of girls ages 7, 4 and 1, was not surprised by the results. But now she had to get the rest of her family up to speed on what was about to happen.
“I didn’t tell my husband until they called for first part of donor testing,” she said, chuckling at the memory.
“My mom was like, ‘You’re doing what?’ But for me it was like all the pieces of a puzzle coming together. Once they saw how much research I’d done on it and saw I had my heart set on it ... I’ve gotten incredible support.”
Jahns, the mother of a 2-year-old, is taking her lessons as a recipient to social media with a new YouTube channel: The Kidney Transplant Experience.
One point she makes is the guilt she felt when Langley experienced pain after the surgery.
“The first day, Nicole was in lot of pain ... and I felt overwhelming guilt,” Jahns said. “But she reassured me it was worth it. She did this for me. I was so relieved when they got her pain under control.”
“I was given the opportunity to change someone’s life, and it was amazing,” Langley said.
Jahns wants to reassure other recipients that the wait for a donor and then surgery is worth it. In her case, that amounted to about six months, not an especially long time, Jahns said. The average wait time, according to the National Kidney Foundation, can be three to five years, and even longer in some parts of the country.
“The wait is frustrating, particularly when you’re on dialysis and waiting to hear when surgery will happen,” she said. “But it’s all part of the process, and (the medical team) just wants it to be done safely for you. It will be done in good time.”
So is Facebook the new go-to donor match site? Maybe.
“It is increasingly frequent that donors are connected with their recipients after reading a story or connecting on social media,” Leca told The News Tribune. “Can’t tell you how many times this actually leads to a transplant, probably not very frequently — however our last living donor transplant from 10 days ago was also a Facebook connection.”
As for Jahns, she calls Langley her “soul sister” and Langley recalls how each woman’s parents took to both of them.
“They said they’d gained an extra daughter,” she said.