BLACKSBURG, Va. (WFXR) — Most people are happy to lend their coworkers a ride or a computer charger… but what about a kidney?
Yang Zhang, Associate Professor of Urban Affairs and Planning, suffered from chronic kidney disease since he was a teenager. In July 2021, Zhang’s disease spiked and his kidney was barely functioning.
The only way for him to fully return to a normal lifestyle of teaching, traveling, and watching his 12-year-old twin daughters grow up, would be through a kidney transplant.
This is where the support of the Hokie community came in.
Medical professionals suggested that Zhang post on Facebook in search of a donor. He received 33 responses, from people selflessly wanting to donate one of their kidneys. Many of them had a connection to Zhang in some capacity, but there was one name he didn’t recognize, but soon wouldn’t forget: Annie Chalmers-Williams.
Chamers-Williams works for Hokie Wellness as the Assistant Director of Substance Misuse Prevention. Something about Zhang’s Facebook post drew her in.
“When I looked at his pictures and zoomed in and looked at his kids’ faces and his wife, I heard that voice. It said ‘There’s your person,’” she said.
Ever since Chambers-Williams was young, the idea of becoming an organ donor interested her. In January 2023, she was able to do just that.
The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) reports that over 88,000 Americans are on the kidney transplant waiting list. The HRSA also shares that around 17 people die every day while waiting for a transplant they won’t receive. Finding a match, especially in the same area, is extremely difficult.
“I feel like this was supposed to be,” Chalmers-Williams said. “This was something that was on my heart, and it just made sense.”
For months leading up to the surgery, Zhang and Chambers-Williams met up at Our Daily Bread to get to know one another better. Then, on January 27th, Zhang and Chambers-Williams traveled to Charlottesville where the surgery was conducted at the University of Virginia hospital.
Chambers-Williams returned to work in mid-March with one kidney. Later that month, Zhang began working remotely, while eating steaks, chicken breast, guacamole, and other tasty foods without restrictions.
“This whole experience really puts everything in perspective,” said Zhang. “I think this community is so wonderful. For a donor and for a recipient, it’s a huge undertaking for the entire family and friends. A lot of people had to step up to make this possible.”
He also gives advice to other people going through kidney failure, or looking for a donor.
“It’s okay to feel depressed and hopeless some days, but it helps to lean on your friends and family. There are many people who want to you, just let your story heard and people will chime in to help,” said Zhang.
Annie wants donors to know there are resources available at local hospitals, mayo clinics, and online to help them make a clear decision about donating.
“I think if you are considering donations it’s a great thing. I would say if you are nervous, I would find a living donor, talk to them, and see what their experience is really like,” said Chalmers.