YCCD's ex-chancellor gets new kidney

Jim Williams, the former chancellor of the Yosemite Community College District, said he's feeling better than he has for years.

On Jan. 16, he received a transplanted kidney from a donor he met online. The gift came after four years of struggling with kidney failure and the dialysis treatments that kept him alive.

"It's been a godsend," he said Thursday from his home in Sun City, Ariz. "There was a time when it looked hopeless because of having to rely on getting a kidney from (the national organ donor system). ... My recovery is going very well."

It's going so well that Williams, 62, says he might return to work in six to 12 months, perhaps for schools that need an interim administrator as they look for a permanent one.

Williams, who was Modesto Junior College president from 2002 to 2004 and then YCCD chancellor, resigned the district post in July 2006 to concentrate on his health. Complications included diabetes, hypertension and chest pains that sent him to the hospital for three days in March 2006.

He and his wife, Jann, moved to their Arizona retirement home, where he continued his wait for a new kidney. When he was placed on the national transplant list in 2005, his doctor said it likely would be five to seven years before a compatible organ was available through a post- humous donation.

He had no relatives to match his B-positive blood type.

Figuring he wouldn't survive the wait, Williams found an online service that matches patients with people who want to give an organ to save a life. The site, MatchingDonors.com, allows people who need a transplant to post a profile and appeal for a living donor.

Jann helped him write the profile and he paid $600 for a yearlong subscription, he said. In two weeks, the first inquiries came from potential donors.

They chose to get in touch with Robin Holmes of Vancouver, Wash., who is married with no children and is a production assistant for a construction contracting firm. Holmes, now 49, described herself online as in robust condition and an exercise enthusiast.

Donor 'committed emotionally'

Holmes said this week that the idea of serving as a live donor came from reading a People magazine article. Since good health runs in her family, she doubted a family member would ever need an organ, so she offered the life-saving gift on MatchingDonors.com.

She said she didn't think she could donate an organ to a black person because of attitudes that came from growing up in mostly white communities.

What changed her mind was hearing Williams' life story, about a boy raised in Virginia by maternal grandparents, who worked hard to earn grades and rose to a career in higher education.

"When I got to know him, he broke all the stereotypes I had gotten from television about black people," she said. "I committed emotionally to giving a kidney to Jim. He has worked his whole life to help others."

The Williamses arranged for Holmes to fly to Arizona to get to know each other and for tests to ensure she was a compatible donor. On a scale of one to six, with six the most compatible, she was a five.

One Phoenix-area hospital later ran more tests and disqualified Holmes based on a stringent psychological evaluation, Williams and Holmes said. Still determined to move forward with the transplant, they went to Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix, where she passed the psychological screening and the surgery was approved.

Jim Williams said another delay occurred when hospital officials expressed concerns that the pair had met on the Web site.

"They didn't really understand we had gotten to know each other quite well," he said. "Once they clearly understood that we were totally comfortable with this, they set the date for the surgery."

About 18 months elapsed between their meeting online and the transplant surgery, and by then Williams was terribly weak.

He was too weak to have a conversation with her as they were prepped for surgery, Holmes said. Still, they shared a poignant moment. "The two of us were sitting on the bed, we were holding hands and I just said, 'Forever,' " she said. "He squeezed my hand and said, 'Forever.' "

The transplant went smoothly and Williams was released from the hospital Jan. 20.

Concerns about Web site's fees

Dr. Alfredo Fabrega, medical director of Banner's transplant program, said the hospital has accommodated surgeries for patients and donors who met online, after ensuring they were medically compatible and the donors fully understood what they were doing.

The hospital had reservations about the fees that Matching- Donors.com charges for its online service, he said. The same concerns have been raised by the American Society of Transplant Surgeons.

"The general recommendation is that if you want to donate a kidney, you can go to a transplant center and find out who is compatible," Fabrega said. "You can donate to the next one on the list, instead of the few who can afford to be on the Web site."

Paul Dooley, founder of the Massachusetts-based MatchingDonors.com, said the nonprofit service uses the fees to pay for overhead expenses. The monthly fee for those needing a transplant is $295, or they can pay a $595 annual fee in installments, Dooley said. Those unable to afford the fees can use the site free of charge, he said.

It's illegal for donors to receive compensation.

Dooley said he started the database in 2004 after his father died while awaiting a kidney transplant. The site has created matches for 68 transplant operations. As of Sunday, the site had more than 4,600 potential donors registered and almost 300 people needing a transplant.

"It saves lives every day," he said. "The people who are willing to donate are serious people. They are just good people."

Williams said the online service is a valuable option for patients needing a transplant.

"Given the tremendous need of transplant patients, anything you can do to cut back on the long wait is more than worth it," he said.

Williams is taking eight to 10 pills each morning to keep his body from rejecting the kidney and to assist his recovery.

On Thursday, he and Jann went out for a haircut and lunch. Since moving to Sun City, he has gotten involved in church ministries and done some volunteer work for The Salvation Army, he said.

"It is going to take some time for my body to fully heal," he said. "I notice a difference in how I feel. My optimism is back."

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or 578-2321.