TAMPA – (April 26, 2021) – On April 30, 1996, Brenda Prelog, a high school math teacher, traveled from Maryland to Tampa, FL., to donate a lifesaving kidney to her sister, Linda Ravenhorst. Twenty-five years later Brenda will be making the same trip, this time from Colorado, to celebrate a milestone anniversary with her sister, family and friends. Linda, a resident of Springhill, Fl., was diagnosed at age 49 with Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD), often hereditary it causes cysts to grow on the kidneys which slowly reduces their function leading ultimately to kidney failure.
Both sisters were aware of PKD as many of their family members had suffered from it, including their father who was lucky to receive 17 additional years thanks to a kidney donation from a deceased donor. “You follow that stuff when you realize your life is going to be different than other people,” said Linda. Despite Linda’s diagnosis she continued to stay active as a nurse caring for patients who required specialized skin or wound care. “I was working in home health at the time in six counties. I was pretty healthy. I was not affected like a lot of people are,” said Linda. Patients who suffer from PKD can have a variety of different debilitating symptoms, however some individuals never develop obvious signs and are diagnosed later in life, like Linda.
Brenda, knowing her family history with PKD got tested, “When I found out that I didn’t have the disease in ’74 I knew I would be a donor at some point. That was just a given, if God gave me the gift of two good ones, the least I could do is give one away. I always wished I had two spare (kidneys) to give as my brother also suffered from PKD and would eventually need a transplant as well,” said Brenda. Watching their father have to go on dialysis and the time it took away from his life motivated Brenda to stay healthy over the years anticipating that one of her family members might need a donation.
That day came on April 30, 1996, at Tampa General Hospital, where Brenda donated her kidney to her sister. Back then the living donation procedure was more invasive than how living donation is done today through laparoscopic surgery. Both sisters are grateful for their surgeon, Dr. Victor Bowers, who still cares for patients at Tampa General Hospital’s Transplant Institute. “I am happy to hear that 25 years later they are doing well! Organ donation, living or deceased is truly the gift of life! This is a wonderful example of that statement,” said Dr. Bowers, Surgical Director of Renal Transplantation and Director Emeritus of Tampa General Hospital Advanced Organ Disease & Transplantation Institute.
Linda is also grateful for her sister, “I did not have to go on dialysis because I had someone waiting in the wings. It was very emotional, and it is a very special thing. We were a very good match.” Afterwards the sisters healed together at Linda’s home, and both acknowledge their husbands who served as great caregivers as they recuperated. The sisters eventually returned to their careers, Linda went on to travel extensively and has seen her children grow up and start families of their own. Today she remains active with her church and participates in the bell choir with her grandchildren.
The sisters are excited as they plan a small gathering at Linda’s church to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their living donation and transplant. “I think as siblings you don’t always get along. Back in the day we shared a bedroom. It makes you closer, you have another bond than just being siblings. Being able to celebrate 25 years is just awesome,” shared Brenda.
Linda and Brenda share their story today to encourage others to help save lives. Over 107,000 people are waiting in the United States for a lifesaving transplant; 85% of those are in need of a kidney. National Donate Life Month, recognized during April, focuses on the need and importance of organ, eye and tissue donation. “I think it is wonderful to get the news out. Signing up on your driver license is one way to do good even in death,” said Brenda. LifeLink of Florida, the local organ and tissue recovery organization for the West Coast, encourages everyone, regardless of their age or medical history to register to save lives through Florida’s donor registry at www.DonateLifeFlorida.org. For the thousands of Floridians listed for a lifesaving transplant, organ donation offers hope for renewed life.