Dad selects recipients of Modesto woman’s kidneys after car crash

etracy@modbee.comJanuary 25, 2014 

  • The big picture

    • There are 132,000 people nationally on the waiting list to receive an organ transplant

    • About a fifth of the people on the list are from California.

    • 459 of those people are from Stanislaus County.

    • There are 10.7 million registered organ donors in California.

    •  In general, an organ donor can save the lives of up to eight people with their organs and as many as 50 more lives can be improved with their tissue.

    • The California Transplant Donor Network encourages everyone who has not made a decision about becoming a donor to gather information at www.ctdn.org and then discuss that decision with their families. Registration as a donor can be done when renewing a driver’s license at the DMV or online at www.donatelifecalifornia.org.

  • Timeline

    When approached by the organ donor network, Rick Methvin said he wanted his daughter’s organs to go to people, not science, and he wanted it done quickly. “I just don’t want her lying in this state like this,” he told representatives from the network. Less than 72 hours passed from the time of Stephanie’s accident until her organs were transplanted into two Stanislaus County residents of her father’s choosing:

    • 12:30 p.m. Nov. 17 – Stephanie Methvin is in a car accident.

    • 2 p.m. Nov. 18 – Gary Blackwell talks to Rick Methvin and the donor network about receiving one of Stephanie Methvin’s kidneys.

    • Midnight Nov. 18 – Rainey Adams gets a call from a mutual friend of hers and Rick Methvin’s about receiving one of Stephanie’s kidneys.

    • 9 a.m. Nov. 19 – Blackwell goes to pay his respects to Stephanie Methvin.

    • 2 p.m. Nov. 19 – Adams gets a call from a transplant coordinator telling her she will receive a new kidney.

    • 5 p.m. Nov. 19 – Blackwell gets a call saying he, too, is a match and will be getting a transplant.

    • 7 p.m. Nov. 19 – Adams arrives at UC Davis Medical Center.

    • 8 p.m. Nov. 19 – Blackwell arrives at UCSF Medical Center.

    • 10 p.m. Nov. 19 – Stephanie goes into surgery.

    • 6:30 a.m. Nov. 20 – Blackwell goes into surgery.

    • 6:30 a.m. Nov 20 – Adams goes into surgery.

— One calls her a blue-eyed angel. The other is overcome by the life-saving gift given by a friend in his time of grief.

The lives of two organ recipients and the father who lost a young daughter are linked by “directed donation,” in which a person chooses recipients for organ donations.

Nearly 3,000 Californians received organ transplants from 1,279 donors who lost their lives in 2013. Families of about 190 of the donors had at least one specific person in mind to whom they wanted to give an organ. But after considering whether the recipient was on the donor list, was well enough to undergo surgery and was a biological match to the donor, only a quarter of the chosen recipients received the organs they needed.

In the case of 27-year-old Modestan Stephanie Methvin, both recipients were able to accept a kidney, and both are also from Stanislaus County.

“It is really rare in this case that both folks were able to accept the kidneys,” said Tony Borders, spokesman for the California Transplant Donor Network.

Methvin suffered severe head trauma in a Nov. 17 car crash in Stockton when her vehicle, for unknown reasons, veered off Highway 99 and hit two trees. The 2004 Beyer High graduate, who was pursuing an education in childhood development at Modesto Junior College, was on her way to a restaurant job in Elk Grove.

“(Doctors) said she was brain dead,” Stephanie’s father, Rick Methvin, said. “When I got to the hospital, the organ donor network was there.”

Methvin recalls the day in 2006 when his daughter announced she had registered to be an organ donor. She had just turned 21, and returned smiling from the Department of Motor Vehicles, where she had gone to get a new license, he said.

“She said, ‘If something happens to me, why would I need my organs? I could give them to someone else,’ ” Methvin said.

Even as he was deciding to take his daughter off life support, Methvin knew he had to carry out Stephanie’s wishes.

“My request when I signed the paperwork was (that) whatever they took had to be used on someone, not become part of a science project,” Methvin said.

He also was given the option to choose recipients of his daughter’s organs if they qualified.

Two people in need

Gary Blackwell, Methvin’s friend of eight years, was in end-stage renal failure and had been on dialysis for almost a year. Rainey Adams was a friend of a friend. And in a strange twist, both graduated from Downey High School in 1997.

“I didn’t know these people, so for them to consider a stranger who knew a friend ... how do you even thank someone like that?” Adams said. “It touches a part of your soul that is unexplainable.”

Failing kidneys had ruled Adams’ life for two years. She went to dialysis three to four times a week. For four hours, a tube removed toxins and excess fluid, cleansing her blood before returning it to her body.

Without functioning kidneys, Adams and Blackwell retained everything they took in, until a portion of it was removed through dialysis – though not nearly as much as functioning kidneys would remove.

Adams said that, on average, 10 pounds of fluid was removed from her body during each dialysis session.

“I had so much fluid in my lungs that I had to sleep with headphones on and music blasting because the gurgling in my lungs would keep me awake,” she said. “I couldn’t walk upstairs, I couldn’t sleep flat on my back. ... I couldn’t even walk 6 feet before I couldn’t breathe.”

Blackwell thought he had pneumonia. When he finally went to a doctor, he learned his kidneys were failing.

He started dialysis in January 2013. “At that point, I had no energy. I couldn’t walk from the couch to the restroom without being out of breath. Showering was tiring,” he said. “I just wanted to sleep.”

Blackwell’s kidney failure was attributed to diabetes and high blood pressure. Adams’ illness, likely genetic, remains a mystery, she said.

She learned her kidneys weren’t functioning properly when she became pregnant in 2010. “The pregnancy took a toll on my body and I lost the baby,” she said. “That baby was a little messenger that I had kidney problems.”

Adams’ mother underwent testing to give her daughter a kidney, but wasn’t a match.

Adams and Blackwell were both tested and reviewed by the California Transplant Donor Network. Not only did their blood types have to be compatible with Stephanie’s, but also their genetic typing.

In the meantime, Blackwell went to Modesto Medical Center to pay his respects to Stephanie.

Afterward, while he waited for the results from the Donor Network, Blackwell thought, “Who am I for Rick to think of me in such a tragic time? That was the most overwhelming part of it; my friend is losing his daughter but he thinks of me.”

It was bittersweet for both Adams and Blackwell when, against the odds, they each got the news that they were matches to Stephanie Methvin.

Adams said she cried while being prepped for surgery less than 24 hours after learning she’d be getting a new kidney. “I had survivor’s guilt,” she said. “This beautiful 27-year-old girl has given me a gift I can’t thank her for.”

The healing begins

Methvin said his daughter was the life of the party. She was funny and pretty and a loving, loyal daughter, sister and aunt. Stephanie’s mother died – from heart failure – about a year before Stephanie’s death. In addition to her father, Stephanie left behind an older brother and sister and a younger sister.

During a balloon release in December to commemorate what would have been Stephanie’s 28th birthday, most of the balloons got stuck in trees, Methvin said. “I thought she was looking down on us laughing.”

“I was 21 years old when she was born and it was the first time in my life I learned what true, unconditional love was,” Methvin said.

“Doctors said it was a heroic thing my daughter did, and I am proud of her.”

Today, Adams and Blackwell are starting to regain their lives.

“I am almost 100 percent healed from the surgery,” Adams said. “Weeks five and six (were) a turning point; it was when I could go up stairs or stand up to make my own food and I didn’t have to rest during shopping trips.”

The kidneys started working immediately for both Adams and Blackwell.

They will always be on anti-rejection drugs, and a body can reject a donor organ at any point, but they are living happier and healthier lives now.

The average time a person spends on the kidney donation list in California is from five to seven years. Blackwell was on that list for just 25 days, and for that he says he is forever grateful.

Stephanie Methvin “was a very, very healthy young lady and a very generous young lady,” Adams said. “I call her my blue-eyed angel.”

Stephanie’s liver went to a 54-year-old woman in Southern California. A letter to Methvin from the donor network said the woman has four children and three grandchildren and wouldn’t have survived without the transplant.

Her corneas will go to people with vision impairment, her skin to burn patients and her bones to people with cancer.

Adams said Stephanie’s selflessness is spreading. People who have heard her story have signed up to be donors.

Methvin finds solace in knowing that his daughter continues to inspire and that she saved the lives of two people who have become very good friends. “That little girl was never meant to grow up,” he said. “I think she was meant to be young and beautiful forever.”

Bee staff writer Erin Tracy can be reached at etracy@modbee.com or (209) 578-2366. Follow her on Twitter @ModestoBeeCrime.

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