VALDOSTA — Lindsay Gutierrez, an Air Force veteran and Nashville resident, is a living kidney donor.
Through a pageant experience, Gutierrez said she became a selfless donor to another military veteran through the nonprofit DOVE.
Her donor journey began at the US Concours d’Elegance in October 2021 when she met a pageant friend who said she had a friend who needed a kidney.
“I immediately volunteered to donate if I was compatible,” Gutierrez said. “I’ve always donated blood and never really thought about organ donation, but I was ready to help in any way I could.”
Fast forward to January, Gutierrez had become “Ms. Georgia American Elegance 2022.” While reading a magazine, she sees a donor ad for DOVE.
DOVE’s goal is to find, educate, screen and support potential living donors, and then match those donors to a veteran awaiting a transplant, according to the mission statement.
Gutierrez reminiscing about his recent pageant experience took the opportunity to contact the organization for more information.
She was taken in by Shayrn Krieitzer, founder and executive director of DOVE, and in April she was officially considered a donor and began working with her transplant team at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.
Gutierrez said she was extremely excited to not only be a donor to another veteran, but started checking the Yankees baseball schedule in hopes of attending a game in New York.
In May, Gutierrez and her husband, Anthony, packed up and flew to New York where they spent the next two weeks while she prepared for and recovered from her kidney donation surgery.
Earlier that month, Gutierrez found out she would be part of a four-person chain swap, which was the first in the history of the Department of Veterans Affairs, she said.
She met Wendy, another donor and husband Reggie, who was to receive a kidney from Gutierrez. While Wendy would donate her kidney to Kevin.
Gutierrez and Reggie had surgery on May 25, following Wendy and Kevin who had their surgeries on May 24.
“Not only were the four procedures successful, but they proved to an important federal agency like the VA that chain donations between private and federal institutions can work,” Gutierrez said. “These actions will hopefully open up more options for other VA transplant hospitals to perform chain donation surgeries on veterans in need of kidney transplants.
After he recovered in the hospital, the Yankees baseball franchise and DOVE gave the Gutierrezes tickets to watch the June 2 game.
Gutierrez is now six weeks post-op, home is still recovering. She encourages readers to learn about organ donation.
“The biggest question I’ve been asked is what happens if I need a kidney, how will I pay for everything and what about the risk of death?” Gutierrez said. “My answers to these questions are that donors can live a healthy life afterwards, your life can go back to normal outside of the recovery period. Being a donor does not negatively impact my chance of receiving, in fact because I am a donor, I go to the top of the donor list. Financially, there are many grants, as well as the beneficiary’s insurance or means to cover the expenses of the donors.
She continued, “DOVE makes this possible through the community, the beneficiaries are still veterans, which is unique. I think it’s important to talk about our experiences to raise awareness because there are so many people who need organs. I encourage people to do their research and ask questions. You never know if you might be the person to help save a life.
Gutierrez and her husband plan to hike Mount Kilimanjaro in March 2023 for World Kidney Day. In November, she will use her pageant platform to speak about organ donation advocacy, education and awareness, not just locally, but across the United States.
Anyone interested in donating to the March 2023 Charity Walk to raise awareness for living kidney donation and fundraising for DOVE, contact [email protected] or via Facebook social media: www.facebook.com/mrsgaae and Instagram: www.instagram.com/linds_gutierrez.