LINCOLNWOOD — A woman from suburban Northbrook who received a kidney transplant nearly two decades ago is again looking for an organ donor to save her life.
Gail Fink’s transplanted kidney failed after she was hospitalized with COVID-19 in October. She has been receiving dialysis since then while she waits to be matched with another kidney.
“When I first had the transplant, I was just so grateful,” Fink said. “It was like a new lease on life, and I took whatever extension of my life I could get, but I always knew that it might not last.”
Fink is on a waiting list at Northwestern Hospital, but doctors told her it will likely take three to five years for a kidney to become available.
An event this week aims to raise awareness about Fink and potentially speed up the process of finding a compatible donor.
People can see if they’re eligible to donate a kidney to Fink 6-8 p.m. Tuesday at The Chicago Center, 6557 N. Lincoln Ave.
Doctors will be on hand to take attendees’ blood to check if their type matches Fink’s. If someone is a match, the person can undergo more testing, covered by Fink’s insurance, to ensure they’re healthy enough to successfully undergo surgery to donate their kidney.
“They really want to make sure whoever is donating is extremely healthy,” Fink said. “People who donate usually live longer, since you have to be so healthy in the first place. And if something happens down the road, like they get cancer or their kidney fails, people who have donated get moved to the top of the list for a transplant, which also helps.”
Fink remains hopeful she will be able to have another transplant because people have become more comfortable with becoming organ donors in the past few decades, she said. The last time she was on a kidney waitlist, doctors told her it could take 10-15 years for one to become available.
Fink’s kidneys failed in 2005 after she’d gone through multiple rounds of IVF treatment to get pregnant.
Juan Uribe, a Texas minister, donated his kidney to Fink. They found each other through a website that links organ donors with recipients outside of organ wait lists, Fink said.
As a bonus, Uribe’s wife, Army veteran Leigh Anne Uribe, agreed to be a surrogate for Fink so she could fulfill her dream of becoming a mother, Fink said. Fink’s twin boys are now 15 and learning how to drive.
Before the pandemic, Fink loved to travel, spend time outdoors and host big gatherings with her friends and family. She was able to live an active lifestyle because of her kidney transplant and enjoyed playing sports with her sons, she said.
The pandemic put Fink’s family “in a bubble,” since she and her husband are immune suppressed, Fink said. They homeschooled their sons for about a year and a half to reduce their risk of exposure and still don’t feel comfortable going to public places, even as the world has started to open up, Fink said.
Fink’s twin sons are attending school in person again and still taking precautions to keep their family safe.
“They’re such sweet guys. We keep telling them not to worry if nobody at school is wearing a mask, and they always say, ‘No, we want to wear our masks to protect our parents,’” Fink said. “If we try to encourage them to go on a trip with their relatives, since we can’t, they tell us they only want to go with us, as a family.”
The lifespan of a kidney transplant is unpredictable and can range from 10-20 years, Fink said.
“I’d think about it every year, I didn’t know how long my kidney would last,” Fink said. “You kind of have to live with that because, for some people, it doesn’t even take right after surgery. For some people, it only lasts a few years. I was very fortunate that it lasted as long as it did, but when I got COVID, that really damaged my kidney.”
As Fink grapples with the latest setback, she is getting support from the Uribes. The families have remained close since their kids are “blood relatives,” Fink said.
“Juan keeps telling me, ‘Don’t give up, Gail; this isn’t the end,’” Fink said. “I was really depressed when I lost the kidney, but he just keeps telling me that God has more in store for me.”
Fink’s sons inspire her to keep receiving dialysis treatment and do everything she can to find a kidney donor, Fink said.
“What drove me to keep going was that I wanted to raise my kids,” Fink said. “Now, what’s driving me is that I want to marry them off. They’re only 15 now, but I want to be able to be at their weddings and maybe meet my grandkids one day. I have a lot to live for.”
Listen to the Block Club Chicago podcast: