(ST. LOUIS) — For over nine months, Delayne Ivanowski of Kirkwood, Missouri, kept a secret from her dad that ended up saving his life.
Delayne Ivanowski, a 25-year-old nurse at Mercy Hospital in St. Louis, donated her kidney to her dad John Ivanowski, who told his daughter for months that he did not want her to be his donor.
“I told her, I’m not taking your kidney,"” John Ivanowski, 60, told ABC News. “I told her that flat out.”
John Ivanowski was diagnosed two years ago with IgA nephropathy, a type of kidney disease that can lead to kidney failure, according to the National Institutes of Health.
The disease ultimately led John Ivanowski to be on dialysis for four to five hours, four days a week, a quality of life that his daughter said was not right for him.
“He likes to walk my dog and run with my dog and he wants to do all this stuff, but now he’s hooked up to a machine,” she told ABC News. “I don’t think that’s any way that anybody should have to live.”
Delayne Ivanowski said while her dad on dialysis, she made the decision to try to donate her kidney to him, despite his opposition. She said she knew that without her becoming a living donor for her dad, he could wait years to find a donor.
“I was like, ‘I’m going to do it. I don’t care how mad he is at me. I don’t care if he kicks me out of the house or hates me or doesn’t say a word to me for the rest of my life,"” she said. “At least he’ll be living a good life and not hooked up to a machine.”
Without Delayne Ivanowski’s intervention to donate her own kidney, John Ivanowski could have remained on the transplant waiting list for several years, according to his doctor, Dr. Jason Wellen, kidney and pancreas transplant surgical director at the Washington University & Barnes-Jewish Transplant Center.
“There are over 100,000 people in the country right now waiting for a kidney transplant,” Wellen told ABC News. “The one way we can get people transplanted within a few months is if they come to us with a living donor.”
Wellen added that, as a father of three, he understood John Ivanowski’s concern for his own daughter, but said living donors face no additional medical risks.
“We spend a tremendous amount of energy and resources and effort to work on every person that comes forward as a living donor,” he said. “To the point that we feel extremely comfortable knowing that if we approve for them donation, that they’ll have no higher risk for the rest of their life of renal failure or any other medical issues.”
John Ivanowski said his opposition to his daughter donating one of her kidneys to him came from not wanting anything to happen to her, now or in the future. He said he was especially concerned after losing his son, Delayne Ivanowski’s only sibling, to neuroblastoma, a type of cancer, nearly 16 years ago.
“I thought, I lost my boy and if anything happened to Delayne, I don’t know what I would do,” he said. “It was a big concern.”
Knowing her dad’s opposition and concerns, Delayne Ivanowski went through the months-long process of getting approved to be her dad’s kidney donor in secret, even while living at home with him and her mom.
The secret mission, she said, included dozens of phone calls with social workers, doctors and nurses out of hearing range of her dad, as well as undergoing blood work and countless medical tests, often at the same clinic as her dad, all without him knowing.
John Ivanowski said he had no idea what his daughter was up to, but does remember getting the life-changing phone call last August that the transplant team had found him a donor.
“They called me at work and said, ‘We’ve got an anonymous donor,’ and I about dropped the phone and thought are you kidding me?,” he recalled. “People can be on the [kidney waiting] list for five, six, seven, eight years and go through dialysis for that long, and I just couldn’t believe it.”
On the day of the transplant, Feb. 16, the team at Washington University & Barnes-Jewish Transplant Center took special precautions to make sure John Ivanowski would not see his daughter, according to Wellen.
“We had to figure out how to put them in separate areas of the pre-op area and how to make it so they didn’t see each other in the post-op area and make sure that they were in different parts of the floor until she was ready to let him know that she was the donor,” Wellen said. “It took a lot of teamwork and effort behind-the-scenes to respect her request to make sure that he didn’t know it was her.”
After a successful transplant surgery, during which the father and daughter were in side-by-side operating rooms, Delayne Ivanowski and her dad recovered in rooms just steps away from each other on the same floor.
The day after the surgery, John Ivanowski learned his anonymous donor was his daughter when she walked into his room wearing a hospital gown.
“I knew right away,” he said. “I was upset. I was just in shock. I looked at my wife and was like, ‘Are you kidding me?"”
A video Delayne Ivanowski posted of the moment she walked into her dad’s room has gone viral on TikTok, garnering hundreds of thousands of views.
John Ivanowski — who will be on anti-rejection medication for the rest of his life, but no longer needs dialysis — said the shock and anger have since subsided, saying, “I wouldn’t change a thing. I feel so much better.”
Delayne Ivanowski, who should have no lasting side effects or complications from the transplant, said she also wouldn’t change anything about the way she helped her dad, saying, “I’m not good at being told no.”
She said she hopes her family’s story helps raise awareness of the need for organ donation. Over 104,000 people are currently on the waiting list in the United States for a lifesaving organ transplant, according to UNOS.
“If anything, I’ve saved one life and hopefully I can, with awareness and other things, save other lives by encouraging people to become donors or to take that next step and go get the testing done to become a match,” said Delayne Ivanowski. “It hurts, but all the pain is worth it in the end, I think.”
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