2005-11-10 / News

Island couple to undergo transplant surgery

By Donna K. Drago

John Shannon will give one of his kidneys to his wife Madonna next week to alleviate her suffering from a rare kidney disorder. Photo by Donna Drago John Shannon will give one of his kidneys to his wife Madonna next week to alleviate her suffering from a rare kidney disorder. Photo by Donna Drago There’s no doubt in John Shannon’s mind that he is doing the right thing by giving his wife of 35 years one of his kidneys next week.

To Shannon’s way of thinking the focus should be on improving the health of Madonna Shannon, who has been sick with a rare kidney disease since 1999. The onset of the disease was severe enough that Madonna had to abruptly retire from her career as a nurse and employee for Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

“I’m feeling very good about this,” John said about his upcoming surgery to harvest his healthy right kidney. “I’m not having any doubts,” he added.

Madonna, who was suddenly felled by focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), six years ago, said that taking her husband’s healthy kidney “is not a simple decision.”

Madonna has been on dialysis since 2001 and had both kidneys removed two years ago because the FSGS had damaged them to the point that they were causing other health issues within her body.

Madonna explained that FSGS damages the filtering mechanism in the kidneys and, oddly, is more likely to occur in “young black males.” She noted that former NBA star Alonzo Mourning suffers from FSGS and had a kidney transplant in 2003.

The dialysis takes place three times a week for three hours at a time. “They are a long three hours,” Madonna said, noting that she gets an awful lot of reading done during her sessions.

She has already had one failed kidney transplant, in October 2004, using a kidney that was harvested from a young male who had been killed in an auto accident. It took her three and a half years to get to the top of the donor list, Madonna noted. In that case, the transplant failed within a week and had to be removed, Madonna said. She pointed out that for the next four months she also suffered post-surgical complications, including bleeding and clotting that had her in the hospital a total of 51 days.

She said she knew then that transplantation from a cadaver would not work for her, and she would only be able to accept a kidney from a live donor — if she could find one.

John said he was planning to retire from his position as an engineer and analyst for the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport and decided last May to offer Madonna his kidney — if it was proven to be compatible.

After several tests on both of them, John’s kidneys proved to be good candidates and doctors chose the right one as the one they would harvest for Madonna.

“This is over and above the call of duty as a husband,” Madonna said about John’s zeal to help her regain her health.

“I’d expect him to go to the market for me,” she said, “but wow, this is really something.”

Her biggest concern, she said, is that his kidney could fail, like the last attempt, and that “John would feel bad about that,” something she does not want to see happen.

The two have been through a lot together over the past years, including the last six that Madonna has been ill.

On Monday, Nov. 14, they will go through surgery together in side-by-side operating rooms. John said that he is confident that he will be back to his good health within about six weeks and noted that it is completely possible to live on one kidney.

“There’s really no risk to me,” John said about the procedure.

Madonna said that she was extremely optimistic and upbeat before her last transplant, but that experience has caused her to be more realistic about the possible outcomes of next week’s surgery.

“I’m very confident that we and our medical team have done everything possible to ensure a positive outcome,” Madonna said.

“I know this is my last shot” at a successful transplant, she added.

The Shannons moved to Jamestown in 1999 and reside on Columbia Lane.

Return to top