Pleasant Hill Woman, Organ Donor Advocate, In Need of Kidney
By Matt Bayman
PLEASANT HILL – When Pleasant Hill resident Jill Wills was 13-years-old, she learned that her kidneys were failing. At the time, she didn’t have any symptoms and, in fact, for the next 11 years her kidney function was kept stable with medication and surgery.
However, in 2007, while in college, the diagnoses changed when her kidneys began to rapidly decline, which meant she needed a kidney transplant to live.
Although people in need of a transplant are placed on an organ donor list, Jill said finding a live donor is always a better option. This is because deceased donor kidneys have a typical lifespan of 4-8 years, while a live donor kidney can last from 10 years to a lifetime. Also, because Jill’s blood type is O, the wait for a donor kidney is between 6 to 9 years.
With her name on the list, Jill and her family set out to find a live donor.
“At that time, I placed articles in the newspaper, as Facebook wasn't around yet, and hoped for the best,” Jill said. “I had 13 strangers call, and also my (future) sister-in-law asked to be tested. After a month or so, we found out she was a perfect match.”
On Aug. 23, 2007, Jill received her life-saving kidney and was able to return to a normal life. This included marrying her best friend, Lincoln Wills, working as a Donate Life Ambassador, which she has done for 22 years, and going back to college to become a Surgical Technologist, which is a trained professional who “scrubs in” with surgeons in the operating room and hands them instruments during surgery, of which there are 100,000 different kinds!
While Jill has been involved with many types of surgery, she said she has a passion for assisting with organ procurements, which is the process of extracting organs from deceased donors.
“Over the years I have done about 50-plus of these, and I remember each of them,” she said. “We always have a moment of silence before the operation begins to honor the donor and donor family for their decision to save lives in a devastating time in their own lives. It’s a humbling experience to hear the OR filled with 20-plus people silent.”
In March of 2011, in the midst of her career, Jill once again received bad news about her kidneys. After showing signs of a virus, she was transported to a local trauma hospital where she learned she had Cytomegalovirus.
“This is a very common virus that lays dormant in most everyone who has ever had strep throat or chicken pox,” Jill said. “It’s also considered lethal to transplant patients, due to our compromised immune systems.”
After spending a month in the ICU, Jill was released from the hospital and able to return to her life. However, in 2016, during a routine doctor’s visit, she learned the Cytomegalovirus had scarred her kidney tissue, which was causing them to fail. This meant once again she would need a kidney transplant in order to live.
“So, to try and be proactive, we started searching for donors. Luckily, this time I had the social media to help,” she said. Unfortunately, during the past three years, all of Jill’s potential donors have been declined for numerous reasons.
In June, she and her husband decided it would be best for Jill to stop working, as it was taking a hard toll on her health.
“This has been one of the hardest things for me to do,” she says of leaving work. “I have worked since I was 14. I miss the OR, the staff, and the surgeons.”
Jill also started dialysis every other day while she waits for a donor, which also has taken a toll on her.
“Dialysis is rough on most anyone, but for some reason my body is just not handling it very well,” she said.
In this time of need, Jill is reaching out to anyone who may be able to provide her with a life-saving kidney. As stated above, the potential donor must have O-type blood (positive or negative are both acceptable) and be willing to travel to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center to be tested. The test, as well as the entire process, is covered by Jill’s insurance.
“My insurance pays for all things related to the transplant – testing, visits, surgery and post-op,” she said.
Jill encourages the public to ask co-workers, church members and family if they would be interested in being tested. In turn, she said she is available to answer any questions people may have.
“I am always open to answer any questions, as I have been on both sides – as a recipient and helping with transplants in the OR. So, my knowledge is vast when it comes to all of this. If I don't have an answer, I will find out,” she said. Likewise, she said members of the transplant team will answer all questions and concerns a donor may have before an operation.
“They are a great, compassionate group of people that are looking out for the donor’s best interest,” Jill said.
If you or someone you know is willing to be tested, or if you have a question for Jill, please contact her at (937) 451-0442.