‘Superhero’ Johanna Holt becomes first link in CAMC’s life-saving Living Donor Chain

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – “Going into this, I knew that I was not a match for his blood type. Ultimately, I wanted to do a paired donation – I knew that would hopefully be our end result. So, you put yourself on the paired donation list, and then you just wait.”

That’s what donor Johanna Holt said regarding her husband’s need for a kidney transplant, and her decision to participate in Charleston Area Medical Center’s (CAMC) “Living Donor Chain” program. Holt’s husband, William Wallace, began kidney dialysis treatments in Oct. 2022. Some 10 months later, the couple would receive a phone call from Susan Hanna, CAMC’s lead transplant/living donor coordinator, that would change their lives. 

“Susan called and asked if that (Living Donor Chain program) was something we were still interested in,” Holt said. “I started doing the testing the next day, and then we were in surgery two weeks later.”

Holt donated her kidney on Aug. 24. In total, the successful transplant required that six different people – including both Holt and Wallace – undergo kidney surgery. Two days later, Wallace received a healthy kidney donated by John Jacobs, a man with whom Wallace had no connection. 

Johanna Holt with husband, William Wallace. Photo by Matthew Young, RealWV.

Holt’s kidney was donated to, and saved the life of Alice Henson. Although Henson’s daughter, Jessica, was not a donor-match for her mother, Jessica was a match for Katresa Jacobs. Katresa’s husband, John Jacobs, while not a suitable match for his wife, was able to provide the life-saving organ to Wallace, thus completing the Living Donor Chain. 

Holt spoke on Monday as part of CAMC’s Living Donor Chain media event. Held at Charleston’s CAMC General Hospital, the event featured comments from both Holt and Wallace, as well as Susan Hanna, CAMC Kidney Transplant Center Administrator Alice Jones, and kidney transplant surgeons Dr. Santosh Nagaraju and Dr. Shakir Hussein. 

“On Sept. 29, 1987, West Virginia had its first kidney transplant,” Jones told those in attendance. “It was from a living donor; a mother donated to her daughter. Now, 30 years and 1,685 transplants later, we’re making history again in West Virginia – we had our first paired-exchange through the chain (program).”

Kidney donations can be made from both living and deceased donors. However, according to a 2014 study conducted by Nephro-Urology Monthly at the request of the National Institute of Health, donations made by living donors statistically result in more favorable long-term results. 

“A living donor is obviously the best option as far as quality of the kidney,” Susan Hanna said, at the conclusion of Jones’ remarks. “If somebody has a living donor, that patient is taken off the waiting list to allow somebody who may not have a living donor the option of a deceased donor.”

CAMC Kidney Transplant Center Administrator Alice Jones, Lead Transplant/Living Donor Coordinator Susan Hanna, Johanna Holt, William Wallace, Dr. Santosh Nagaraju, and Dr. Shakir Hussein. Photo by Matthew Young, RealWV.

Nagaraju noted how far kidney transplant procedures have advanced since 1987, saying, “35 -years-ago, the surgery was very different.”

“Everything is done microscopically, so the patient has a very small incision,” Nagaraju continued. “The recovery is very much better compared to what it was. In the past, it used to be a very big incision that  sometimes involved cutting out a rib or going through the belly. Recovery time would be three or four weeks. Now we’ve come to a point where we’re thinking about sending people home the same day or the next morning.”

Hussein echoed his colleague’s enthusiasm regarding the decreased recovery times, adding, “I think over the years and the decades, we pinned down the operation to a more set sequence. Every now and then we get a surprise and we have to deal with it. But for the most part, we know exactly what we have based on the CAT scans and the ultrasounds. We go in with a plan and a roadmap of what we’re going to do. It’s more standard than what it was 30-years-ago.”

Despite the increase in the confidence of surgeons performing transplant procedures, according to Hussein, “The donors are the real superheroes.”

That sentiment was shared by William Wallace.

When asked what he thought about Johanna Holt’s choice to give the gift of life, Wallace simply said, “She’s amazing.”

For Holt, however, it was really no choice at all.

“I was super happy that we were going to get a kidney for him (Wallace), and I felt blessed that I was going to be able to help somebody else,” Holt said. “As much as you’re concerned for your loved one, there’s just as much concern for that other family.”

“I lost my mother a year ago, and I lost my brother a couple of weeks before this happened,” Holt added. “I also felt like I was able to donate to somebody else’s mother so they didn’t have to go through the loss that I did. I feel like that’s another dynamic of this journey for us.”

For those wishing to learn more about CAMC’s Living Donor Chain program, or for additional information about becoming a donor, contact Susan Hanna at 304-308-7823, or visit camc.org


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