Chapel Hill organ donor, recipient co-author new book

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- Two Chapel Hill women know what it means to share a life with someone. One of them, Carol Offen, is a kidney donor. The other, Dr. Elizabeth Crais, is a recipient.

Their paths crossed long before their organ donation stories were written; acquaintances turned co-authors.

"I always tell people I was a very unlikely kidney donor- living donor- because I've always been a wimp," said Offen.

When Offen's son was a college student, a lingering strep infection led to kidney disease. Her husband couldn't donate to help their son, and their daughter was too young. The only one eligible ended up being Mom.

"For me, it was much easier than I expected and an extraordinary experience," said Offen. "My son's doing well so that made it all worthwhile in any case."

Offen described her experience as a brief procedure with just a few days in the hospital, then she was released to go home and enjoy long walks. Her nurse, whispering parting words that stuck, "Now you've given him life twice," Offen recalled. "And it's a very special feeling."

Before Offen donated her kidney to her son, her acquaintance at the time, Dr. Crais, a longtime sufferer of polycystic kidney disease, had spent precious time on a waitlist. Her family and friends all failed to be a match when a coworker at the UNC School of Medicine, Linda Watson, came through with a big surprise.

"She felt that it gave her a lot as well, which was so pleasing and surprising to me that she would have this gratitude to me that she was able to give this gift to me," said Crais of her longtime research collaborator, turned organ donor. "We'll always be connected through life."

With these life-saving gifts, both given and received, a new story was in the making, one Offen and Crais began writing together.

"It's quite a struggle because there are many, many more people on the waiting list than there are donors," said Crais.

Their book, with the working title, "The Greatest Gift: The Insider's Guide to Living Kidney Donation" promises to be practical. The women want it to be a resource they both wish they'd had when going through their journeys.

"Donating a kidney isn't just a medical decision," said Offen. "It's very personal. It's familial. It affects your family. It's social. You'd be surprised at the reactions people get."

They hope their stories will inspire others to become living donors like them, or at least consider signing up as organ donors to potentially save multiple lives one day.

"We hope to encourage people to at least think about it," said Crais.

To learn about The United Network for Organ Sharing, click here.
Copyright © 2022 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.