By Jeff Cohen
“We didn’t want to see our father wait on a death list or have to be on dialysis the rest of his life.” Jennifer Flood and her sisters, Cynthia and Heather, craved a happier outcome for their father, Daniel, of Pleasantville, NewYork.
The Flood sisters’ journey began with a simple Craigslist ad that read “Please help me find a kidney for my dad.” As Jennifer recalls, “the three of us were Craigslist regulars for everything from finding child care to selling jewelry, so why not get creative and go for a kidney?”
Media attention for the ad ensued and soon over 100 people had offered to be tested. While approximately 50% of responders were genuine, the bigger hurdle was finding a blood type match for Daniel. His O-negative blood type meant the chosen donor would need to be O-negative or O-positive. Ultimately six responders were tested and in December 2008 Daniel was the lucky recipient of a living kidney donation from Dawn Verdick of Monterey, California.
The Altruistic Donor Dawn was not the Flood sisters’ aunt, distant relative, or even close friend. She was a complete stranger compelled to help.
As Dawn recalls, “when I saw the Craigslist ad I had just been to a memorial service for someone very close to me who had made such a difference in the lives of others.” At the outset, Dawn didn’t know her volunteerism desires would lead to kidney donation. “After seven months of conversations, research and testing, the answer to donate was obvious,” says Dawn.
To this day, the primary question asked of Dawn is why she would want to help a complete stranger. She is also frequently asked “What if something happens to your good kidney” or “What if the kidney recipient dies?” Dawn fervently believes that “helping others and being outward focused is truly the only remedy we need to create a better world.”
Inspirational words from someone whose altruistic ways extend beyond kidney donation. Dawn is also the President and Founder of Dare to Dream (www.daretodreamfund.org), an organization with the vision of providing every young person with the opportunity to discover his or her potential in school, at work, and in life through goal achievement and life preparedness programs.
Thanks to Dawn, Daniel Flood has a new lease on life. You could argue that saving dad is a noble enough cause, but it was just the beginning for the Flood sisters. En route to finding a living donor for Daniel, the sisters founded The Flood Sisters Kidney Foundation of America, www.floodsisters.org. The Foundation’s mission is to educate people on alternative ways to find a donor for kidney transplantation. Their focus is centered on the idea of the “altruistic donor,” or unrelated living donor.
According to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) more than 93,000 Americans are currently on the national kidney transplant waiting list. While up to 16,000 or so kidney transplants are performed annually, the average wait time can surpass seven years. Sadly, many waiting list candidates will pass away before a kidney donation match is made.
“If we can raise awareness for living donation, word will spread, and waiting lists will shorten,” says Jennifer. With a wait list generally within a year, the Flood Sisters have facilitated four more transplants since their dad’s. Currently, 53 additional patients are registered, with 25 donors on hand getting tested for compatibility.
“Ultimately, we’d like to complete one transplant per month and provide hope for renal failure patients besides the traditional deceased donor transplant.”
Spreading the Word
Raising awareness is a primary mission for the Flood Sisters Foundation. Their annual fashion show does just that. On December 2, 2010, The Flood Sisters Kidney Foundation of America presented the 2nd Annual “Love. Give. Life.” Park Avenue Fashion Show at the Audi Forum of New York City, sponsored by the National Association of Profession Women (NAPW). Top fashion designers joined together to highlight the importance of altruistic/unrelated living donors.
As designer Elene Cassis noted, “I was extremely touched by the Flood sisters’ amazing story of how they saved their father’s life.” Elene is no stranger to tragedy herself, as her own father drowned. “The fear they had knowing they could lose their father is something I can certainly relate to and understand. It’s wonderful how they found someone to save their father’s life and continue helping others who are in a difficult situation in finding the right donor.”
Fellow Chappaqua resident Pam Zonsius, founder of “The Brelli” biodegradable umbrellas, supplied Brellis for some of the models to hold in their hands down the runway. According to Zonsius, “in the name of their father, The Flood Sisters Kidney Foundation fundraising event was very personal. They have been successful in creating a model to match people in need of a kidney with a donor and Brelli is happy to be part of this passionate mission.”
The star-studded affair was co-hosted by CNN producer Phil Rosenbaum and medical producer Maria Dorfner. Household name companies participated in a silent auction, including Calvin Klein, David Yurman Jewelry, Build-a-Bear, the Tony Hawk Foundation and Ivanka Trump Jewelry. A February fundraiser is in the planning stages.
Touching Lives, Inspiring Hope
Live speakers touched by donation inspired the crowd, including Jamie Howard and Lisa Williams. Jamie’s daughter Caitlyn was born with reflux and needed a
“I was very worried Caity would be on the waiting list for years, so I contacted the Flood Sisters.” Just before joining she got the call a deceased donor had been found. Caitlyn quickly went from a very, very sick child with dark circles and yellow skin to a very healthy 13-year old.
Still, Jamie feels the Flood Sisters’ impact to this day. “I am comforted knowing that should Caity ever need another kidney I have somewhere I can go without having to feel hopeless and go on that waiting list. It really makes a very scary situation have some hope.”
For Lisa, she did some soul searching in arriving at the decision to give her kidney to a dear friend.
“I knew he needed it and felt as though I was extremely blessed to be able to give him an opportunity to lead a more normal life.” Lisa consulted with her Rabbi, who said, “to save a life is to save the world.”
The Terrific Trio…
Jennifer: spent six years in psychiatric nursing before working in finance, where she began building the Flood Sisters Kidney Foundation from her cubicle.
Cynthia: Jennifer’s twin, Fashion Institute of Technology graduate with a masters degree in art business from Sothebys, now working in compliance on Wall Street.
Heather: a Westchester social worker currently in training to become a therapist.
Today Lisa feels complete when she sees how well her friend is doing and thriving. She also stares in awe at the Flood Sisters. “They have such a passion and their journey was not completed when their father received his new kidney.” Lisa is a Flood Sister advocate for life and will continue to let people know that donating their organs to save a life is the most gratifying and honorable thing one can do.
The Journey Has Just Begun
Altruistic donation really is all about love. As the Flood Sisters’ website explains, “In the field of organ donation, it is love that carries the day, whether its for an individual recipient or simply for humanity. Organ donors are truly heroes. Everyday, they give of themselves to help others, gaining nothing of material value in return.”
In the end, The Flood Sisters’ philosophy sums it all up. “We changed our father’s life for the better. Now, we want to help others fight Kidney Disease. The power of one can save so many lives-imagine what can be done with all of us.”
To learn more about The Flood Sisters Foundation of America, visit www.floodsisters.org or call 646-287-2900. Donations can be made online or by check payable to The Flood Sisters Kidney Foundation of America, 100 Park Avenue, 16th Floor, New York, NY 10017.
Jeff Cohen recently lost his mentor and father-in-law to kidney disease but lives his dream as a writer and consultant at Boldroad.com.