Sharon and Steve McNally pose for a photo.

Sharon and Steve McNally of New Bern have been married for more than 40 years. Now, Steve carries a little piece of his wife Sharon with him everywhere he goes.

Steve is diabetic and in 2015, he went through his first round of transplants at a hospital in their then-home state of Pennsylvania.

“It was supposed to have been a kidney and pancreas at the same time,” Steve said. “When they got me on the operating table, the pancreas wasn’t viable. So they said, ‘We’re going to do the kidney alone and we’ll get you a pancreas.’ What happened then was the hospital eventually became decertified and couldn’t do pancreas transplants anymore.”

Then, they joined the transplant list with a health system in Maryland and Steve received a pancreas transplant 30 days later. In the meantime, the new kidney had been damaged due to the lack of a functioning pancreas, but Steve said it was largely working fine until mid-2023. By that time, the McNallys had moved from Pennsylvania down to New Bern.

Sharon and Steve McNally pose for a photo.
Photo contributed by the McNally Family

With Steve’s kidney function worsening, there was little time to spare. He could join another transplant list that may take eight to 10 years to find a donor, start dialysis or personally find a match to donate a kidney.

Sharon said she knew she had to step up for her husband and get tested to see if she could be a match.

“It wasn’t really hard for me because a lot of people say, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re so amazing’ or so this and that but I don’t really feel that way,” Sharon said. “I feel like we’ve been married 40 plus years. We have grandkids and kids together and how could you watch someone get more and more ill and not do something if you can? So I didn’t really think about it.”

Testing started for the two in June and preparation began right away. They found out in October they were a match and an ECU Health team performed the transplant on Nov. 7.

“I’m glad that this was something I could do,” Sharon said. “There’s a lot of people that probably couldn’t have, even if they wanted to.”

For Sharon’s part, she went home the next day while Steve stayed a couple extra days for monitoring before heading home. While they each needed some help early on after coming home, they were both happy to support each other, as they’ve been doing for more than four decades.

Dr. Margaret Romine, transplant surgeon at ECU Health, and Dr. David Leeser performed the transplant along with other members of the ECU Health transplant team. She said she was most proud that the team could take on a case like the McNallys, especially given Steve had been through a kidney and pancreas transplant previously.

“They had already been through a lot before even coming to us but they had such great attitudes and were great patients to care for,” Dr. Romine said. “We have such a great team and that really sets us apart from other programs. It’s not just about what the surgeon thinks – the nephrologists play a huge role. Our coordinators, nurses, pharmacists, social workers all play a huge role. We can’t do what we do without the entire team. Whenever we make a big decision to take on a patient like him, it’s done as a team.”

Steve and Sharon both said they were happy with their experience at ECU Health and shared appreciation for the care team that helped guide them through the process and into recovery.

Now, they are looking forward to a spring working outdoors, something they both love but missed out on last year.

Sharon said if she could share one message, it would be on the importance of organ donation.

“Organ donation is just such a wonderful thing. I mean, three different times it saved my husband,” Sharon said. “You know, a lot of people don’t want to do something like that even after they’re gone because it just it seems weird to them. But honestly, I think it’s a wonderful thing.”

Featured | Health News | Transplant

On Wednesday, ECU Health Medical Center partnered with Honorbridge to celebrate National Donate Life Month and recognize organ and tissue donors, their families, those who are waiting for life-saving and life-changing donations, and recipients of organ and tissue donations.

The occasion was marked at 10:08 a.m. as the Donate Life flag was raised in front of ECU Health Medical Center, followed by a 30-second moment of silence. These two numbers are significant as the time symbolizes that one donor can save eight lives while the moment of silence recognizes the 3,000 North Carolinians waiting for an organ donation.

Dr. Walter Pofahl, chief medical officer for ECU Health Medical Center, said eastern North Carolina is home to a disproportionately high number of those 3,000 in North Carolina. Dr. Pofahl shared that last year ECU Health Medical Center had 31 organ donors, transplanted 90 organs while 18 were sent out for research. It also had 56 tissue donors with 141 tissues recovered and 90 eye donors with 84 corneas transplanted and 21 placed for research.

A daughter’s gift

During Wednesday’s event, Darice Fonville shared her inspiring story of donating her kidney to her mother in February.

Fonville said her mother had suffered from chronic kidney disease for about 20 years and as she began to struggle more, they learned she would need to find a donor or start dialysis. She knew that dialysis can be very difficult for patients, and she wanted to help her mother any way she could. So Darice decided to get tested to see if she would be a match.

“I was actually at work when I got the call, and they let me know we were a match,” Fonville said. “As soon as I got that call, everybody in the office already knew how excited I was. I put work on pause to go call my mom. She already knew, and she was nervous. I was excited. I knew it was a done deal. We were just going to go through with it.”

Darice Fonville poses for a photo with her mother. Darice donated a kidney to her mother and improved her life.

She said she never had any hesitation when she knew she could give something back to her mother and improve her life. She said the transplant team at ECU Health Medical Center put everyone at ease and allowed Fonville and her mother to be together shortly before surgery to spend time with one another.

How to give

Dr. Pofahl said while it is important to identify as an organ donor when you receive your driver’s license or state identification card, it’s just as important to share your wishes with those close to you.

“It’s not always easy, but having that discussion is important,” Dr. Pofahl said. “In that critical time when decisions are being made around donation, if your loved ones understand what your wishes are upfront and ahead of time, that makes the process a lot easier.”

While only about 50 percent of adults in North Carolina are registered organ donors, there are 3,000 people waiting for organ and tissue donations in North Carolina and more than 100,000 waiting for a donation across the country.

Learn more about how to become an organ donor and the impact you can make as a donor on Donate Life’s website.

Resources

ECU Health Transplant Services

Honorbridge

Donate Life

Community | Health News | Transplant

The transplant clinic on 3 South.

With our continued focus on the imperatives of quality, experience and finance, ECU Health’s transplant program at ECU Health Medical Center has consolidated their treatment and office spaces into the newly renovated 3 South. The area is now known as the 3 South Transplant Clinic.

The transplant program performs an average of 80 to 100 living and deceased donor kidney and pancreas transplants per year. Patients that are seen in the clinic include pre-transplant (patients being evaluated for transplant), living donors and post-transplant. This program and the services offered have continued to grow over time, but have been limited by clinic space. To enhance patient and team member experience, the pre- and post-transplant clinics have now consolidated into one, centrally-designed space on 3 South, as they have been operating in separate clinics at the Cancer Center and ECU Physicians.

The transplant clinic on 3 South.

Previously, the transplant team worked in separate clinics, sometimes limited to three rooms. 3 South Transplant offers 18 patient exam rooms, which in addition to consolidating space for patients, will also help to shorten wait times for new referrals and follow up appointments.

Another benefit of 3 South is the accessibility of team members such as dieticians, social workers, pharmacists, nurses and physicians, which provides patients the accessible support of various teams of health care workers critical to patients’ transplant journeys.

Lastly, this consolidation allows for expansion of potential future services such as phlebotomy, expanded pharmacy services, infusion services and vascular access.

In 2022, as we build the future of ECU Health, the exceptional care and services we provide have a positive impact on the communities of eastern North Carolina that we serve through our considerations of patient quality and experience.

For more information on transplant services at ECU Health, visit the transplant section of our website.

Featured | Health News | Transplant