Double organ donor finds joy in giving life twice

Joy Schumacher had donated both a kidney and liver to people in need.
Published: Mar. 13, 2023 at 11:33 AM EDT
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APPLETON, Wis. (WBAY/Gray News) – A woman in Wisconsin has joined a rare club of being a living donor of two organs.

According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, fewer than 100 people have donated both a kidney and part of their liver.

“A lot of times people who need organs have loved ones willing to donate, but they can’t because everything has to line up,” living donor Joy Schumacher said.

Everything lined up for Schumacher after she gave 70% of her liver to a stranger.

“More people just know about living donation for the kidney because you have two, so people know you can give one away and live a happy healthy life,” said Dr. David Al-Adra, assistant professor of surgery at UW-Health.

“It’s less commonly known that livers can be partitioned in a way that the donor receives a graft and there’s still adequate remnant for the donor.”

The liver is the only organ in the body that can regenerate lost tissue in about six weeks, but it takes some work.

“For the first few weeks after the transplant, they’ll be really tired. The liver is going to be sucking out their body’s energy, regenerating, growing and getting back to a proper functional size,” Al-Adra explained.

Schumacher said liver donors nap like they’ve never napped before, but said it’s a small price to pay to help someone on a donor waiting list.

One of her doctors was nervous about letting her donate a second organ after giving a kidney decades ago, but Schumacher said her kidney function improved after donating her liver tissue.

Schumacher comes from a large family with 11 siblings. She did not inherit her dad’s polycystic kidney disease gene.

“Six of my siblings got that bad gene. To date, five have had kidney transplants from some of us,” Schumacher said.

Schumacher donated a kidney to her sister 19 years ago. Her other siblings have done the same thing, but at one point, they still needed one more kidney for her brother.

Schumacher turned to UW-Health in Madison because it allows people to sign up to donate an organ in exchange for someone else donating an organ to a loved one.

“I went online to do an organ swap,” Schumacher said. “I didn’t have another kidney to donate, but I had a liver.”

Though her brother ended up getting a kidney from another relative, Schumacher kept her name on the organ swap list because she knows what it’s like to be the family on the receiving end of an organ donation.

Her experience, compassion and faith led Schumacher to donate a second organ and become the first living donor at UW-Health to do so.