Parents

Life-saving lesson: Teacher to donate kidney to co-worker's daughter

When elementary school teacher JoAnn Schettig learned her co-worker's daughter was ill, she taught everyone a lesson in compassion.

Courtesy of Aidimar Richardson
Elementary-school teacher JoAnn Schettig, right, volunteered to donate her kidney when she learned about the illness of her co-worker's daughter, Alex Brigantti, and wound up being a donor match, despite unlikely odds.

The Wilmington, North Carolina, educator had heard her Mary C. Williams Elementary School co-worker, data manager Aidimar Richardson, lamenting the illness of her 16-year-old daughter, Alex Brigantti. Diagnosed Aug. 13 with MPGN Type-II — a chronic kidney disease that stifles the organ's ability to filter toxins — Alex not only needed a kidney transplant, but also had to find a matching donor, despite odds that were reportedly 1 in 100,000.

A Facebook page called "A Kidney For Alex" was posted to raise awareness about her condition, but Richardson's lucky workplace conversation appeared to trump even the wide-reaching impact of social media.

"She said that they were told that they need a kidney transplant," Schettig, 50, told TODAY.com. "And I have two children of my own, and I'm extremely close to my children, and I told my husband, 'I just don't know what I would do if we were in that situation.'"

Courtesy of Aidimar Richardson
JoAnn Schettig, right, said she felt compelled to see if she was a donor match with Alex Brigantti, left, because she'd want that same kind of help if her family needed it.

A junior at Eugene Ashley High School, Alex lived a healthy life prior to her diagnosis. "Alex was a very typical 16-year-old-girl," her mother said. "She loves to be in her room, loves to listen to music. She's a sweet kid."

According to a fundraising page set up in her name, Alex's kidney function has since declined to 15 percent, and she continues to battle high blood pressure and calcium deprivation. And every week, Alex has to take 98 pills just to combat her condition, which has taken a toll on her personal life, her mother said.

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"If we take a trip or do anything out of the ordinary, my permission is not enough anymore," Richardson added. "We have to get approval from her doctor."

In an email to TODAY.com, Alex recalled that before her illness took hold, "it was a lot more fun because I had a lot more energy to do things and nothing depended on what the doctor said."

Courtesy of JoAnn Schettig
Despite odds that were reportedly 1 in 100,000, JoAnn Shettig proved to be a donor match for 16-year-old Alex Brigantti.

After making sure her husband and two sons supported her plan, Schettig subjected herself to a series of medical tests at the University of North Carolina's Chapel Hill hospital, where, despite long odds, she wound up being a donor match.

"I was told [a match] almost never happens with the first donor that's available," she recalled. "I would pray through every test, and I would ask God to stop it if it wasn't meant to be. I'm wanting grandchildren, and we're at a comfortable place in our life, and everything kept working out. It's almost not in my hands anymore."

Richardson, too, couldn't believe her family's luck. "I guess you could call it a miracle," she said.

The potentially life-saving surgery has been scheduled for July 14 at UNC Chapel Hill.

Courtesy of Aidimar Richardson
Alex Brigantti told TODAY.com she's thankful for JoAnn Schettig, whose kidney donation is "going to give me my life back."

"It is a great feeling knowing she is going to give me my regular life back," Alex told TODAY.com.

Her mother added that there's no way to express the depth of her family's gratitude. "We're just grateful that she's giving Alex something we can't give her," Richardson said.

In the remaining days leading up to her surgery, Alex asked her supporters for two favors. "More people should become organ donors," she wrote, "and I'd just appreciate anyone praying for me."

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