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Ky. woman collaborates with doctor to pass legislation to help living organ donors

Former UK athlete Beth Burbridge wanted to donate her kidney to a neighbor in need, but...
Former UK athlete Beth Burbridge wanted to donate her kidney to a neighbor in need, but encountered unexpected obstacles along the way.(WKYT TV)
Updated: Apr. 7, 2021 at 8:17 AM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - One of the latest bills to be signed by Governor Andy Beshear is the Living Organ Donor Protection Act, or House Bill 75, which follows House Bill 46, also signed into law, that supporters said removes barriers for organ donors.

With the bills now law, all state employees receive a separate paid leave of seven days for bone marrow donation, and up to eight weeks leave for organ donation.

Donor Beth Burbridge shared her testimony of saving a stranger’s life with Kentucky lawmakers in an effort to get the bills passed. She said she’s now an advocate for organ donor protections so more Kentuckians can be helped and healed.

Burbridge, a UK grad, was browsing her neighborhood’s Facebook page when she saw a post about her neighbor’s son needing an organ donation.

“Jackson had a genetic kidney disease that left their entire family unable to help him,” Burbridge said.

She knew she shared the same blood type with the potential recipient. She brought the idea to her husband.

“His response was, ‘I don’t like this idea at all.’ So, we had to talk through all of his concerns. I had to do a lot of research,” Burbridge said.

In her research, she found Kentucky had no protections for living organ donors at that time. She learned she would have to use vacation days for the surgery and recovery time, because it was considered an elective surgery.

“You think of elective surgeries as things that aren’t a requirement, that aren’t dire, that aren’t needed right away, but this was needed right away for Jackson,” she said.

Burbridge also had a lot of back and forth with her insurance company after increasing the amount on her life insurance.

“It took over 300 days for my life insurance policy to be approved,” she said.

Dr. Tom Waid, medical director of the kidney and pancreas transplant program at UK, said many patients of his have encountered issues.

“We’ve had people who have been denied family medical leave, we’ve had situations where insurance premiums have gone up or insurance has been canceled, or they’ve been denied insurance,” Dr. Waid said.

Burbridge decided to go through with testing and discovered she was a match.

“My boys are my life, I can’t imagine not being able to help them and how desperate that would feel,” she said.

She determined she would only have six days to recover.

“I knew I donated a kidney on Tuesday, I knew by Friday I needed to be off painkillers, and going into surgery, the stress of that was a little overwhelming,” Burbridge said.

Dr. Waid said some patients will require up to eight weeks of recovery time.

“Even though you think you may be recovered from an operation, you may not be able to go back to work, or do the chores of daily life as soon as you think you might have been able to,” said Dr. Waid.

After her procedure, Burbridge wrote to her state lawmakers, sharing her story, organizing supporters, including Dr. Waid, and testifying in front of members of the House and Senate.

“It’s really a significant operation,” Dr. Waid said. “The person donates an anatomical gift to somebody who’s in significant need. Often times, more often than not, that’s a life saving procedure.”

With two state bills down, both Dr. Waid and Burbridge are pushing for state and nationwide legislation that would benefit all living organ donors.

“There’s really no way to put words to what an incredible experience it was for me, to be able to say I matched to save your son’s life,” Burbridge said.

Currently, all state employees and Lexington and Louisville city employees get separate paid leave for both organ and bone marrow donations.

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