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Inspirational lesson: Educator, school family linked through living organ donation

DALLAS – Jan. 30, 2020 – Nathaniel Jones got to hug his angel earlier this month.

Sarah Schecter, Ph.D., gave as good as she received during the misty minutes-long embrace at UT Southwestern Medical Center’s William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital. A day earlier, a severely ill Jones received a healthy kidney from Schecter, a principal at his children’s school who was moved to action when she learned what Jones had endured for 18 months.

“There are angels on this earth, and they will help you out,” said Jones, a 45-year-old credit analyst with AT&T. “I now have two birthdays – Feb. 2, when I was born, and Jan. 13, when I was given a second chance at having a full life.”

For Schecter, a 57-year-old woman of deep faith who is Head of the Lower School at the Oakridge School in Arlington, the path to becoming a living donor started in 2018 with a casual four-word inquiry.

Dr. Sarah Schecter tells what she hopes to inspire to others with her donation.

“Nate’s wife, Amenze, was dropping their children off for one of our programs and I asked, ‘How is your summer?’ and immediately saw tears in her eyes,” Schecter remembered. “After she explained her husband’s situation, I thought about it for a couple of days and started to deeply believe that I was the person to give him a kidney.”

Jones, a former journalist who had never had any previous health issues, had suddenly been diagnosed with renal failure in May 2018. He was immediately put on 4-hour dialysis treatments and had his name added to the needed transplantation listing. What worried him most was the impact this would have on his children – Aaron, 13; Sydney, 10; and William, 8.

“You’re told it could be four to five years to get a match,” Jones said. “I never thought I’d get a kidney from a living donor. There are a lot of unsung heroes – family, friends, and other parents from the Oakridge community – who helped us in varying ways, but to receive a kidney from someone, that’s a huge ask.”

Nathaniel Jones shares how he looks at the day he received his kidney donation.

Last winter, Schecter had discussed her evolving plan with her husband, Gary, and then with her own children – Beau, 25, and 18-year-old Emma Kate, a senior at Oakridge.

“I felt God had put it on my heart and I had to try,” she said. “He pulled me through this, I didn’t go willingly. At times during testing for a potential match it seemed like it was never going to happen.”

But it did. Schecter, at the upper end of the age spectrum suggested for living donors, proved to be a perfect organ match for Jones, who had quietly accepted a pragmatic outlook to handle the situation.

“I wanted to dismiss the possibility of her being a match,” he said. “Dialysis for me was a part-time prison sentence that began at 4 a.m. three times a week. Continuing to deal with and accept my situation was easier than believing I would ever get her kidney.”

But early on Jan. 13, 2020, a transplantation team led by UTSW surgeon Parsia Vagefi, M.D., took a heathy kidney from Schecter to improve Jones’ life. Not surprisingly, the two Clements’ patients emerged from post-op recovery asking about the other.

Dr. Parsia Vagafi speaks to UT Southwestern’s mission of quality and personalized care for each individual patient.

“As soon as Sarah woke up she asked, ‘Did it work,’” Gary Schecter said. “She wanted to know that Nate was OK.”

OK was an understatement for the grateful organ recipient.

“I know I’m a better person because of this,” Jones said. “I thought it was about me and my family, but it’s bigger than that. We went through a 3-hour surgery that changed our lives, and I don’t know what I’d do if something ever happened to her.”

That debt of human kindness and selflessness is a link that provides long lasting returns and permanently connects two families tested by circumstances and bolstered by faith.

“Nate can’t pay me back, and maybe that’s the point,” Schecter said as she turned to Jones. “I was inspired, but I now understand how important this gift truly is. I feel energized just seeing him here and knowing that our kidney is working.”

About UT Southwestern Medical Center

UT Southwestern, one of the premier academic medical centers in the nation, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has received six Nobel Prizes, and includes 22 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 17 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 14 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators. The full-time faculty of more than 2,500 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide care in about 80 specialties to more than 105,000 hospitalized patients, nearly 370,000 emergency room cases, and oversee approximately 3 million outpatient visits a year.