Taught by an Angel

A science teacher donated a kidney to an ailing student.

Fifteen-year-old Michael Carter knows precisely who his “angel” is. It’s his science teacher.

Michael, a student who lives in Fayetteville, N.C., was playing on his school’s football field one day wearing a pair of loose-fitting pants. His science teacher, Jane Smith, was watching as Michael kept hiking up his pants so he could run more easily. “I assumed he couldn’t run because his pants were so baggy,” Smith explained.

When she quizzed Michael about the pants, he told her that he had a severe kidney problem and that loose pants were more comfortable. Then Michael told her that he needed a new kidney.

Smith’s response was simple, immediate, and lifesaving. She said, “I have two. Do you want one?”

A few months later, doctors gave Michael one of Smith’s kidneys. So far, Michael’s new kidney is working great and he feels healthier than ever.


Michael was born with renal dysplasia (REE-nuhl dis-PLAY-shuh), a rare condition in which the kidneys don’t develop normally. One of Michael’s kidneys was severely stunted and the other was barely functional. Many people with renal dysplasia end up needing a new kidney to survive.

The kidneys, located beneath the lower rib cage in the back, are each about the size of a computer mouse. The job of the kidneys is to remove wastes from the bloodstream. During a typical 24-hour period, the kidneys filter about 150 liters (160 quarts) of blood. They remove nitrogen, phosphorus, and other waste products produced by the normal workings of body cells.

Michael’s kidneys couldn’t perform those functions as well as normal kidneys can. Eventually, waste products began building up in his bloodstream. If enough wastes had built up, they would have poisoned Michael’s brain and other organs and could have killed him. So, at age 13, Michael began dialysis.

Dialysis is a treatment in which blood is removed from the body, sent through a mechanical filtering system, and then returned to the body. Michael required dialysis three times a week, with each session lasting about four hours. “Every day I would get on my knees and pray that someday I would get a [new] kidney,” said Michael.


Michael’s teacher, Jane Smith, answered his prayers. Smith is one of a growing number of kidney donors who are relatives or friends of patients–or even complete strangers.

It wasn’t always that way. A few years ago, nearly all donated kidneys came from people who had died. Doctors would remove the organs from someone who had died and who had given permission while alive to donate the organs. The organ would then be packed in ice and transported to a patient who needed the organ to survive.¬†Surgeons¬†would then transplant, or transfer, the new organ into the patient.

Today, a growing number of kidneys used for organ transplants come from living donors. Recent advances in surgery have enabled surgeons to remove an entire kidney through a tiny incision in the side of the body. Those advances make it easier and safer for someone to donate a kidney while still alive. Altogether, living donors now account for 40 percent of all kidneys used for transplants.


Whether a kidney comes from a living person or from someone who has died, the person receiving the organ stands a high risk of organ rejection. That occurs when the body of the recipient (the person who receives a donated organ) builds defenses against the new organ.

The body’s immune, or infection-fighting, system searches constantly for foreign invaders, such as bacteria and viruses. If it doesn’t recognize something, it sends out chemical messages for special immune cells to attack the intruder. If a recipient’s immune system doesn’t recognize a transplanted kidney, the resulting attack can eventually destroy the implanted organ.

Recently developed drugs called immunosuppressants, however, help block that reaction. Preventing organ rejection allows the organ to remain in the patient’s body longer without problems.


Doctors expect that the immunosuppressants and other drugs Michael now takes will help his new kidney stay healthy for many years. With proper care, a transplanted kidney can function for more than 30 years.

No matter how long Michael’s kidney lasts, the transplant immediately changed his life. “He can go outside, he can play sports,” said Mark Johnson, director of the team that transplanted Michael’s kidney. “All of a sudden, he’s a normal kid again.”

Michael’s teacher is also feeling great since she gave up a kidney. Doctors say her remaining kidney should be able to perform all the filtering functions her body needs to stay healthy.

Does she regret giving up a kidney? Not a bit. “It was one of those moments in your life,” said Smith, “that you knew it was the right thing to do and that it was going to happen.”

Michael and his mother say they’re extremely grateful to Smith for her generosity. “I’ve always said that everyone has a guardian angel,” said Michael’s mother. “Ms. Smith is our guardian angel.”

How a Kidney Works

  1. Blood flows into kidney through the renal artery.
  2. Blood is cleansed by filtering units, called nephrons, located throughout the kidney.
  3. Cleansed blood leaves kidney through the renal vein.
  4. Waste products leave kidney as urine.
  5. Urine flows from the ureter into the bladder.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *