A donor’s story

There are some people for whom giving is just a way of life. People like parents, police officers, organ donors. People like Phillip Wisely.

Wisely, 54, a native of Murphysboro, IL, is a married father of three. He is a former police officer from the Metro East. He currently works in the compliance department at Edward Jones, Inc. And on Sept. 9, 2010, he donated one of his kidneys to a complete stranger.

It’s nothing special

Yet Wisely doesn’t think he’s done anything special or out of the ordinary.

“To me, the doctors are the heroes,” he says. “They do this all the time. I’m just a simple person, a country boy from southern Illinois.”

Before August 2009, Wisely had never thought about organ donation. Other than seeing the occasional news story on TV, he didn’t know much about organ transplant. But one day, while reading the business section of STLToday online, he noticed a link to a story about a young person who needed a kidney transplant.

Wisely says he’s not sure why, but he clicked on the link. He read the story about a young area woman who wanted to start college after getting a transplant, but who was having trouble finding a donor because of antibodies in her blood.

Wisely says the thought just occurred to him to that maybe he could become a donor for the girl.

“I really have no explanation for it,” he says. “I’ve never known anyone who’s been a donor. I’ve never really known anyone who’s had a transplant. I’m very religious and I guess God just directed me to that [news story].”

He looked up the patient’s phone number and called. Her family directed him to Jean Bowe, a living donor transplant coordinator at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

Bowe met with Wisely and started working him up as a potential living donor. Testing showed that as an avid bicyclist, Wisely was an excellent candidate to be a kidney donor.

“I am in pretty good shape,” he admits. “I try to ride 20-30 miles a day about five days a week. But don’t get the wrong idea – I ride so that I can eat.”

Further testing showed that he’d be a good match for the young woman he had read about. Wisely began preparing to donate his kidney. His wife and children were worried at first about him and his health down the road.

Donors live longer

Organ donors, because of the thorough testing they undergo, are extremely healthy and very, very rarely have long-term problems, Wisely told them. In fact, statistics show that organ donors tend to live longer than the general population, doctors say.

Wisely’s family came to support his choice wholeheartedly, he says.

But before the transplant could be scheduled, the young woman was able to get a kidney from another source. Wisely was happy for the young lady, and thought his opportunity to be a kidney donor had passed.

Several weeks later, Jean Bowe called Wisely. Comparing his test results with other people on the waiting list for a kidney at Barnes-Jewish, she had found what looked like a perfect match. Would he be willing to give his kidney to a perfect stranger?

Wisely says he didn’t think twice about it.

And so, without ever meeting the person he was giving it to, he checked into Barnes-Jewish and donated his kidney.

Why did he do it?

Wisely says he felt no fear before and had almost no pain after the surgery. He donated on a Thursday, was discharged on Saturday and was working from home on Monday. He’s since returned to his normal life ““ working, riding his bicycle and attending his son’s wedding this past New Year’s Eve.

Wisely briefly met his recipient before they were discharged from Barnes-Jewish, and has exchanged a few emails with him. But they don’t keep in close touch.

“This really hasn’t changed my life,” he says. “Especially not health-wise.”

So why’d he do it?

“I never would have known [about the girl who needed the kidney]. I think God directed me to look at that article on STLToday that day,” he says. God works in mysterious ways.

But what made him go through testing and surgery to help someone he’d never met?

Phil Wisely says that John F. Kennedy was one of his favorite presidents, and Kennedy is famously known for urging Americans to give of themselves. For Wisely, that’s a way of life.