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Frewsburg Woman In Search Of Kidney Donor

Joann Wellman of Frewsburg baking with her granddaughter, Alexa. Joann Wellman is in need of a kidney donor and has her profile on the Kidney Connection website, kidneyconnection.org, in hopes of finding a donor. Submitted photo

Joann Wellman of Frewsburg is hoping to be 18 again.

If the 67-year-old’s search is successful via a Western New York website, Wellman would be the 18th person to find a living donor on the Kidney Connection website.

She is in need of a second transplant after starting dialysis in July 2020 after her kidney function was rated at 30%. She has type O blood, which would also be the same blood type required for a potential donor.

“It can’t sustain me, so I’m on dialysis,” she said. “I guess you can stay (on dialysis) for awhile, but it’s not going to last forever.”

Wellman has already been fortunate enough to receive a kidney back in 2012 from a living donor, Gail Smith, who attended Randolph High School with Wellman.

The Wellman family, first row from left, Michael, Jason, Joann, Stefanie; back row from left, Alexa and Rachel; are pictured. Submitted photo

“It’s pretty exceptional when someone steps forward,” Wellman said. “I have experienced the empowering benefit of a live donor once, and know just how fortunate I would be to find the lucky match for transplant number two. The blessings of this are not lost on me, and I hope that someone finds it within themselves to go through the process to be this second chance for me.”

Wellman was diagnosed in her 20s with Polycystic Kidney Disease. She said following the diagnosis, she followed a strict diet to help her kidney function so she could live a prolonged life. However, in 2000 she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatments to defeat the deadly disease, which she did. But the toll of the treatments to defeat cancer had a negative impacted on her kidney function.

“I learned a lot,” she said about selecting chemotherapy and radiation treatments to defeat cancer despite the impact on her kidneys. “I’m thankful for everyday,” she said.

When she was told she would need another kidney transplant in July, Wellman knew of the Kidney Connection because of her father and brother, who also needed kidney transplants and died from the disease. She also said a lot of her friends know Jeanette Caprino, Kidney Connection co-founder and president.

“It’s pretty awesome for a lady like Jeanette to help people,” Wellman said. “It’s embarrassing and bewildering when you have kidney disease and need one. She helps push you forward, which is good.”

Caprino, a Jamestown native, started the Kidney Connection website in 2006 when her son, Paul Cardinale, needed a second kidney transplant. The first time Paul Cardinale needed a kidney in 1994, his father, Peter Cardinale, was a match, so finding a donor was simple. However, the second time was not so simple to find a donor because no other family members were a match.

“I had to go to the internet to find a donor for him,” Caprino said. “Back then, there was a lot of controversy on internet donors. The hospital refused to test anyone I found because I met them on the internet. They refused to do it. It had to be a loved one or a family member.”

Caprino said after a year, the hospital changed its policy, so she was able to find an online donor using a national website.

“After I successfully found my son a donor, I started a local website,” she said. “It paved the way for people to go online and advocate for themselves and find a living donor.”

Caprino said her son is still doing fine today after having a successful second kidney transplant surgery. If she hadn’t found a donor online, she said her son might have waited five years or longer to receive one from the national waiting list.

“There is such a great need for donors. You can’t sit there waiting for it to happen. I wasn’t going to allow my son to wait on the list. I really had to fight for it,” she said. “It’s not good to sit on the waiting list. You sit there and get sicker and sicker while waiting. So the best option is to find a living donor.”

Caprino said since 2006, the Kidney Connection has assisted 17 people directly find a donor. She said there are currently 30 to 40 people on the website searching for a kidney donor.

“We always said if we save one life that would be incredible, but now we’ve saved quite a few people,” she said. “Knowing you can be a living donor is important because a lot of people don’t realize that. You only need one and you have two.”

It doesn’t cost anything to post a profile on the Kidney Connection website, Caprino said. She said the success of the site has increased in the past decade with the expansion of social media. For more information on the Kidney Connection, visit kidneyconnection.org. To contact Wellman if you believe you might be a match, call 499-7681 or email jlw1208@gmail.com.

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