Mother of 7 donates kidney to co-worker

- “Why not?”

That’s the answer Christine Higbee repeatedly gave when she was asked why she was donating her kidney to one of her co-workers.

Zack Pacyna and Higbee have been working at the Lowes in Venice for several years. Higbee says the two were not particularly close but  had a friendly work relationship.

“I knew him, but I didn’t know-know him,” Higbee explained.

Higbee would tease Pacyna about how fast he walked while they worked together on the overnight shift. When Higbee noticed Pacyna wasn’t walking as fast, she asked her boyfriend if he knew why. He explained that Pacyna was on dialysis and needed a kidney.

“Well heck, he can have one of mine,” Higbee remembers saying.

Pacyna was diagnosed with a type of kidney disease called Alport Syndrome at the age of 8. It is a rare genetic disease that attacks the blood vessels of the kidneys. The condition worsened in 2015 and Pacyna found himself tethered to the dialysis machine at the age of 24.

“It takes your life away because you basically can’t do anything. You’re stuck on a machine from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. every day,” Pacyna said.

It took Higbee several times asking Pacyna if he wanted her kidney for him to take her serious. When he finally said yes, she got to work.

Higbee, a single mother of 7, was worried about the lung capacity test she would have to take in order to be to be cleared to donate her kidney since she had smoked for the past 20 years. One of her daughters sensed her mother’s anxiety and stepped up.

“If you fail the test, I’ll donate my kidney,” she told her mother.

Higbee quick smoking shortly after that conversation.

Following the successful surgery, Pacyna was able to get a doctor’s note to return to work less than a month after surgery.

“I’m not a person that likes to sit around, I was getting real bored,” he said.

Higbee is also fully recovered, and still smoke free.

“Quitting smoking was harder than giving a kidney. I always wanted to quit, but I never had a good enough reason,” she said.

Higbee’s advice to others considering organ donation is simple.

“Just get tested. Why wouldn’t you?”

April is National Donate Life Month, which was organized to encourage Americans to register as donors. More than 100,000 Americans are waiting for a kidney transplant, but many people won’t receive a transplant because many don’t know how to ask.

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