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Teachers Are Givers

Would I donate a kidney to save the life of a co-worker?
Would a co-worker donate a kidney to save my life?

I pondered these questions as I interviewed Sunitha Gokavi, a Rialto Teachers Association member who donated a kidney to save the life of fellow RTA member Keith Shattuck, who also teaches at Casey Elementary School.

Their story appears in the November issue of the California Educator. What amazed me the most is that they were not close friends. They were acquaintances who said "hello" and nodded to each other in the hallway. Yet she gave him a kidney.

At least six teachers and their spouses at Casey Elementary School attempted to donate a kidney for Keith. That amazed me even more. All of them were ruled out for health reasons, so Sunitha stepped up, even though she barely knew him. Teachers, indeed, are givers in the truest sense of the word.

Sunitha donated a kidney as part of a “paired exchange” donor program. Under this kind of “pay it forward” plan, a donor who is incompatible with a designated recipient agrees to donate their kidney to a stranger, in exchange for the designated recipient receiving a kidney from another stranger. Keith’s kidney came from an altruistic college student in St. Louis, who started the chain. Sunitha doesn’t know who got her kidney, but she knows it saved that person’s life as well as Keith’s life. 

The operation to have a kidney removed isn’t terribly risky, but with any surgery complications can arise and result in death. One day Sunitha may develop kidney problems herself and only have one kidney. Yet she stepped up.

As for my questions …Would I be donor for a co-worker? There’s a select few I would offer a kidney to. They are people I am close to. I wouldn’t do it for an acquaintance. But I strongly admire somebody who would be willing to do that.

Would someone give a kidney to me? My department is a place of mostly ex-journalists, not teachers, and we sometimes give each other heartburn instead of support. It’s a pressure-cooker, newsroom-type environment where we run from crisis to crisis and sometimes jockey for position and power. Like most workplaces, there would probably not be a long line of people willing to donate a kidney to a colleague but perhaps someone would step up.

In my opinion, public schools are special places where more people are likely to make these kinds of noble sacrifices. I have heard of these things happening at other schools where educators care deeply about one another. Where I work is more typical of the working world where nurturing plays second fiddle to other priorities.

Hopefully, these questions will never be put to the test. Meanwhile, I will continue to maintain positive relationships with my siblings and cousins. After all, you never know when you’ll need a kidney.

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