“She’s my hero.”: Fargo woman gives her kidney to older sister to save her life

Alison Mackey and Michelle Lafond before surgery
Alison Mackey and Michelle Lafond before surgery(KVLY)
Published: Aug. 18, 2022 at 4:17 PM CDT
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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - After years of waiting on the transplant list, a woman is getting a second-chance at life and it’s all thanks to her little sister. The transplant also marked Sanford Health’s 800th kidney transplant.

No sister wants to see their sibling in pain. But for Alison Maki, that’s been her unfortunate reality watching her older sister Michelle Lafond suffer through pain and dialysis, and agonizingly wait on the kidney transplant list for more than two years.

“The last time seeing her in the hospital, it was Christmas Eve and I said, ‘I’m done. Just let me test. I can’t watch you go through this anymore,’” Maki said.

The high unlikelihood Maki would be a match, topped with being let down on a new kidney once before left Lafond’s hopes hanging low.

“I honestly don’t think it really hit home until the day of the surgery and they took her away. Then it was like, ‘This is really happening,’” Lafond said.

The average wait for a kidney from a deceased donor is between three and six years depending on your blood type. A living donor, though, is practically no wait at all.

“Because it is a living kidney, generally those kidneys last longer. And for a person like Michelle, I think that kidney could last her her lifetime,” Dr. Raghavesh Pullalarevu, a Sanford Health Nephrologist said.

“I started to feel a difference the next day in ICU. I knew I was sick, but I don’t think I realized how sick I was until I started to feel good. It was like, holy buckets! I have more energy now than I have ever,” Lafond said.

“There are few who may never get a kidney because they do not match and while they are waiting for that many years they end up with other health-related issues or not strong enough to receive a transplant,” Dr. Bhargav Mistry, a Sanford Health Surgeon who specializes in transplants said.

And that’s why the sisters want to share their story. With 5,000 people waiting every day to get a second lease on life like Lafond, they’re urging others to consider being a living donor.

“For a couple months of this uncomfortable whatever it is, for her to live a life that she can do anything she wants is like nothing,” Maki said.

And doctors are echoing the sisters’ sentiments. Dr. Mistery says deceased donor numbers are rising, but ‘it’s not enough to meet the need that we have.’

Lafond says if it wasn’t for Maki, she’s not sure how much longer she could have waited. She says she’s thankful every day for the sacrifice and gift of life her little sister gave her.

“She said I’m not getting anymore birthday or Christmas presents. I’ll take it,” Lafond smiled. “She’s my hero.”

Doctors say lafond’s kidney failure was prompted by high blood pressure and too much over-the-counter pain medicine. While the occasional ibuprofen, aspirin or Aleve is fine, doctors remind you your kidneys can only handle so much and urge you to limit your consumption.

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