Shelton woman gives up kidney to save a stranger’s life

It isn’t every day a person offers to give up a kidney for someone they don’t know.

But that’s what happened earlier this year when Laura Roessler of Shelton, a 41-year-old teacher at Christian Heritage School in Trumbull, offered to give one of her two kidneys to Mike Sheehan of Milford.

Sheehan, 51, who owns his own construction company in Milford, has had kidney disease since he was 20. He’s been on dialysis for the past three and a half years, spending more than three hours a day, three days a week, hooked up to a machine that cleaned his blood.

“He never even complained,” said his wife, Laurie, who was one of hundreds of people at a recent fund-raiser for Sheehan at Stonebridge Restaurant in Milford.

Friends and family said Sheehan would go to dialysis, then go home to shower, and then go to work.

His aunt Ann Wayne said there had been a couple of times that it appeared a kidney had been found for him. “One day he waited at the hospital for almost 23 hours, but then he was told to go home,” Wayne said.

The phone call

It was the end of July when a transplant coordinator at Yale-New Haven Hospital called Laurie Sheehan and told her she had a living donor for her husband.

Laurie called her husband, who was working outside building a deck at the time. She said, “Are you sitting down?”

She told him the news, and he said, ‘You’re kidding.’”

Laurie also told her husband that if medical tests panned out, he’d be heading into surgery Aug. 6. He said he wasn’t sure if he could be ready by then, and she told him he would most certainly be ready.

The surgery took place Aug. 6, and “there were some bumps,” Laurie said. “But now he’s on the road to recovery and he’s doing fabulous.”

Sheehan looked overwhelmed when he showed up at the benefit event to help with his medical bills. “It’s been a long road, and lot of midnight phone calls that didn’t pan out,” he said, speaking to the crowd.

He sent out a special thanks to his donor — “Laura, my donor who gave me back my life,” he said.

Emotional meeting

The Sheehans knew the living donor had chosen to be anonymous. But they wanted to meet her. So they asked, and she agreed.

They met for the first time a few days before the fund-raising event at the hospital, and it was a very emotional gathering, donor Laura Roessler said. She and her family attended Sunday’s fund-raiser and met Sheehan’s throng of family, friends and supporters.

Roessler had offered to be a kidney donor twice before, the first time for a former student at Christian Heritage School, and then for a church member. In both cases, she was not a match.

Then the transplant coordinator asked her if she would consider being an “altruistic, anonymous donor.”

“I couldn’t justify why I wouldn’t,” Roessler said.

Her children — Hannah, Emily, Jacob, plus Hanna Cho, a student staying with the family for a year — and husband Matt, are proud of her.

Emily and Jacob agreed it was their mother’s decision to do with her body what she wished, and they said they supported her bravery.

Christian beliefs played a role

Roessler said her Christian beliefs helped her make the decision. She also said the procedure was no more draining than the cesarean section she’d had years before.

“It was probably one of the best things I’ve ever done,” said Roessler, adding that she doesn’t have to change her lifestyle to accommodate living with one kidney.

The only thing she has to do is avoid Advil and Motrin, and similar pain medication.

Dr. Peter Yoo, transplant surgeon at Yale, attended Sunday’s event, too, and said that Sheehan was proof of the importance of organ donations.

“Living donors are rare,” Yoo said. “Altruistic anonymous donors are very rare.”

A 'very rewarding and very emotional' match

Joyce Albert, clinical transplant coordinator at Yale, said 17 people die every day waiting for a kidney transplant.

Finding a match like that between Roessler and Sheehan was “very rewarding and very emotional,” she said, elaborating on the process of live organ donations. She said a full medical workup is done to make sure the donor can expect no health problems from sacrificing a kidney.

“There is a lot of miscommunication that this will do the donor harm, but it won’t,” Albert said.

Roessler joked, saying that after the three-hour surgery, recovery was relatively easy for her. “It was a good excuse not to clean the house,” she said.

The transplant coordinator looked at Roessler and said she didn’t just save one life, but changed the course of Sheehan’s family’s life.

Laurie and Michael Sheehan have three children — Christopher, Julia and Alyssa.