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STLCC-Meramec Student Inspired by Class Makes Selfless Donation

September 06, 2013

Chris Croy  
Chris Croy

Education can make a profound difference in someone’s life. It can change the way you view the world, the way you think and even inspire you to do things most people would never consider.

Such is the case for St. Louis Community College-Meramec student Chris Croy.

As a student in Aaron Champene’s environmental ethics class, Croy studied the work of philosopher Peter Singer. Three months was all it took for a change to happen.

“I gave up trying to justify supporting factory farming and gave up eating meat, dairy, eggs, etc.,” said Croy, “The amount of happiness I gained from eating meat and cheese just didn't compare to the suffering inflicted on the animals to make that happen.”

Dietary changes were only the beginning, as Croy made a decision that would alter his life, and the life of another, forever. Croy donated a kidney. The kidney was not for a family member, or even a friend. He was donating a kidney to a complete stranger.

“If I hadn't taken that dramatic step toward living a more ethical life, I doubt I would have ever considered donating a kidney to whoever could use it the most,” he said.  “The idea first came into my mind in the middle of (Champene’s) ethics class. Just after midterms, another student said something about harvesting people's organs, and I pointed out that you could live a long, happy life with just one kidney.”

Croy thought about this, wondering if he really believed what he had said in class. For a month, he read everything he could find about kidney donation, weighing the risks, benefits and process of kidney donation. In the midst of his research, a friend of Croy asked him what he thought about her donating a kidney to whoever could use it the most.

“I hadn't said anything to her, but suddenly I didn't feel so crazy anymore. It took me about a month from when I decided to do it to muster the courage to call Barnes-Jewish (Hospital),” he said.
Croy made his call to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in May 2012, a week after final exams.

“The receptionist took some basic information from me and said to expect a call in the next couple of days,” he said. “It is not a fast process; I did all of the testing as fast as possible and I wasn't cleared to donate until a couple of days before the start of the fall (2012) semester.”

Testing was exhaustive; doctors looked for any potential problems that could jeopardize Croy’s health. Croy also underwent psychological and sociological testing, which, along with the surgery and six months of follow-up care costs, are covered by the recipient’s insurance.

“They want to understand why someone is donating. If someone wants to donate because they're guilty about something, they want fame, or they don't care if they live or die, etc., they're rejected as a donor,” said Croy.

After passing batteries of tests, Croy’s name was added to the pool of donors.

“There are actually several different pools of would-be donor-pairs,” he said, “I specifically requested they only match me through John Hopkins or the National Kidney Registry (NKR). NKR is a privately run non-profit organization.”

His surgery was scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, conveniently, after midterm exams for the semester, but things didn’t go according to plan. Croy woke up with stabbing abdominal pains that worsened as the day went on.

“I barely remember anything I was learning in class that day,” he said. “The hospital ordered me to go to the emergency room. I went to Missouri Baptist and was diagnosed with appendicitis.”

Doctors removed his appendix on a Saturday morning, but not his kidney. The risk of infection was too great to pass on to the recipient. The transplant was rescheduled for Jan. 8, 2013.

“I spent the night before surgery at Barnes-Jewish because I had to be there at 5:30 a.m. They rolled me into the operating room at 7 a.m., put me under, and I woke up a couple hours later,” Croy said.

Most living kidney donations are done laparoscopically, during which the surgeon inflates the patient's abdomen with carbon dioxide and make a series of small incisions in which the surgeon inserts cameras and tools, typically resulting in faster recovery and smaller scars.

“For various reasons, I opted for an old-fashioned nephrectomy,” he said. “The surgeon makes a cut, takes the kidney out, sews the patient up, and that's that,” he said.

Croy’s surgery was what his doctor called a "mini-nephrectomy." Discharged from the hospital after only two days, Croy went home on Jan. 10, 2013, and came back to school at STLCC on Jan. 14 with a 12-credit-hour course load.

Croy was one link in a “kidney donor chain,” which is when a person makes a non-directed kidney donation. A non-directed donation goes to a recipient who needs it rather than a person specified by the donor. Croy’s kidney chain benefitted four people in the well-coordinated process.

“For short chains like this, they try to schedule it so all of the kidneys are harvested almost simultaneously,” he said. “This is done to minimize the risk of a donor in a donor-pair backing out after their recipient gets a kidney, but before they've donated their own.”

Donors and recipients are only allowed contact if both parties consent. Croy found that his kidney went to a 43-year-old man in California. Croy also found who his first kidney recipient was supposed to be in October 2012.

“Turns out, my kidney was scheduled to go to him then, too, which is very unusual,” Croy said. “This is mostly because he had a highly sensitized immune system, so finding a donor that matched him was rather unlikely. When he was told (in October) his donor had come down with appendicitis three days before surgery, his initial reaction was to ask if they were joking.”

Has he remained in contact with the philosopher who inspired him?

“I haven't spoken to him since about a month before his TED talk. Singer did refer someone who asked him about donating their own kidney to me. That was a pretty surreal email.”

Would Croy do it all again? Croy had a one word answer.

“Yes.”