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Steve Winfree

Woman donates a kidney to her husband

Living organ donation is physically challenging, but it saves lives. For those who donate a kidney while they are still living, the act can also be extraordinarily gratifying.

Steve and Heather Winfree speak at the Donate Life Flag-Raising Ceremony.

The best thing she ever did

Heather Winfree gave her husband, Steve, one of her kidneys.

“Donation is a difficult thing to go through, no matter which side of the donation process you are on,” Heather said. “My husband spent one year on dialysis and I knew it was not the life I wanted for him. I started the process of getting tested to find out if I was a match.

“I knew it was the right thing for me to do,” she said. “Even after surgery and I was in pain, I told the resident who was checking on me that it was the best thing I had ever done.”

Those thoughts were reaffirmed after seeing Steve hours later, for the first time after surgery. “Seeing him immediately feel better is something I will treasure forever,” said a tearful Heather.

More ‘water’ for everyone

Steve said this experience inspired him to encourage others to become organ donors.

“I know when I left dialysis for the very last time, I was very emotional,” he said. “It’s like I had survivor’s guilt. I felt like I was in the desert with all my dialysis friends and someone handed me a glass of water and said only I can drink it.

“Well, I am taking that drink of water and using it to give me the strength I need to find more water for everyone else,” Steve said. “That’s my life’s mission.”

The need is great

Every 10 minutes, someone is added to the national organ transplant wait list. 

“Our collective mission in our country, in the Volunteer State, in the city of Nashville and as a medical center is to increase the number of registered organ and tissue donors,” said C. Wright Pinson, MD, MBA, Deputy CEO of Vanderbilt University Medical Center and CEO of the Vanderbilt Health System. “Donation represents the very best that an individual can offer to another.”

"My husband spent one year on dialysis and I knew it was not the life I wanted for him."

In 2017 at Vanderbilt, 72 people “gave the remarkable gift of life to others through organ donation,” Pinson said, referring to donations of many types of organs. “Their selflessness resulted in 255 life-saving gifts.”

In addition, 114 people donated tissue that enhanced the lives of burn patients, restored sight to the blind and gave mobility to those suffering with bone and joint injuries.

In 2018, 60 living people donated a kidney for transplant at Vanderbilt.

For information on donor registration, visit https://donatelifetn.org/

Living Kidney Donor Transplant