Social media helps Lincoln County police officer find kidney donor

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LINCOLN COUNTY, Mo. - After a Lincoln County police officer in need of a new kidney asked the community for help, a total stranger stepped up in a big way.

Fox 2 first introduced our viewers to Officer Ryan Armistead in Oct. 2018 when he was searching for a kidney donor.

In December, after nearly three years on dialysis, Armistead got the message he had been praying for. A woman Armistead did not know, reached out to him on Facebook to tell him she had been tested and was a match.

"I pretty much fell to my knees," Armistead said.

Armistead said he was nervous to meet his donor, a woman named Abbie, prior to the surgery. He jokingly said he was worried she might want to "take her kidney back."

An autoimmune disease damaged Armistead's kidneys severely. For nearly three years, he had to undergo lengthy and frequent dialysis. His surgeon said time was of the essence.

"The longer you're on dialysis, the more it takes its toll on your body, and, ultimately, you will succumb to your renal failure," said Dr. Jason Wellen, Surgical Director of Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Transplant Center's Kidney program.

Wellen said they performed about 240 kidney transplants last year at Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Transplant Center.

Approximately 20 to 25 percent of donors are living donors, said Wellen. Of those donations, about half of the donors are related to the recipient.

Wellen says the testing to become a living donor is extensive to ensure a higher success rate for both the patient and the donor. Each year, about 1,100 people apply and only 60-80 are accepted.

Armistead's doctors warned him it could take five to seven years to find a match. Wellen said the average wait for a person on the list at Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Transplant Center is about three years.

To help spread the word about Armistead's situation, his family created car magnets and a Facebook page. Through the power of social media, their prayers were answered.

Tuesday (Jan. 22), Abbie's kidney was transplanted into Armistead.

"Abbie has gone above and beyond for my family," said Armistead.

Armistead's family is looking forward to a future without dialysis. They plan to take a trip together, and Armistead is looking forward to taking his son, Gregory, to his first day of kindergarten.

Abbie was released from the hospital Thursday (Jan. 24). Armistead expects to go home Friday (Jan. 25).

Armistead is excited to get back to work with the Old Monroe Police Department. He should be able to return to duty in about eight weeks.

He says he is grateful to his police chief and fellow officers for the support they have shown him.

"I'm glad I have a second chance at life."

According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, more than 113,000 people are waiting for an organ, and a new patient joins the list every ten minutes. One organ donor can save up to eight lives.

Wellen says there are about 700 people on the kidney transplant list at Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Transplant Center. For more info about kidney transplants at Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Transplant Center, visit barnesjewish.org/donatelife.

If you are interested in becoming a living organ donor, call 314-362-5365, or visit organdonor.gov or registerme.org.

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