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Bumper sticker on truck leads to life changing kidney transplant

No longer strangers; kidney donor and recipient share incredible story at Sharp Memorial Hospital.

SAN DIEGO — A bumper sticker on the back of a truck lead to a life changing kidney transplant. In this Zevely Zone, I met the donor and recipient at Sharp Memorial Hospital. Asking a stranger for help can be difficult, especially when the request is a kidney. "I felt pretty rotten," said Annemieke Frost Hutchinson. 

The 48-year-old Serra Mesa resident was living with polycystic kidney disease. "I would wake up in the morning and have some water and then I would throw up and it was just really bad. It was awful," said Annemieke who received a graft in her arm for dialysis. "This is a scar from it, and this was from all of the pokes," said Annemieke. 

Credit: Sharp HealthCare

She had dialysis three days a week which was no picnic. "They would prick one side and this side with big needles," said Annemieke. What the wife and mother needed was a new kidney. "Nothing was panning out," said Annemieke who thought to herself maybe her husband could help. "He is my rock. He was very determined to help me," said Annemieke.  

Her husband Justin cleans barbeques and drives all over the county in his work truck. Justin covered his truck with giant magnetic bumper stickers that read 'Wife Needs Kidney'. 

"I told my bosses I am going to do it I don't care what you guys say I got three magnets one on each side and back, got some calls and finally got the right call," said Justin.

Credit: Sharp HealthCare

That call came from a middle school teacher living in Scripps Ranch. "It was one of those moments where everything slows down," said Gwen Smith. The 52-year-old saw the sign as a sign. 

"Instantly I hear, you are going to be that person's match. I felt it and I am like I am that person's match," said Gwen. 

She was and Sharp Healthcare called Annemieke with the good news. "I was like what?" said Annemieke. "It blew my mind really to think that someone I didn't know man or woman would see that sign and then think for real I am going to give a part of me to a complete stranger that I don't know that I have never seen before." 

Credit: Sharp HealthCare

The two women met for the first time after the transplant surgery. Gwen, a mother of three, says she never hesitated and didn't even talk to her family about the decision. "I am a go person, I am a go person, I am a yes person," said Gwen.  

According to Sharp HealthCare, there are currently 19,000 Californians on the national kidney transplant waiting list; because waiting for someone to pass away and donate a kidney can take so long, the option for living donors is becoming far more common. 

"If we can get the word out that there are so many ways to give when you are alive and help someone like this beautiful person that you can help now that is the big message, I hope we can get out," said Gwen.

Credit: Sharp HealthCare

Annemieke added, "It's just amazing that a total stranger would donate a kidney to someone they don't know. I don't know how to explain it, it's amazing."

Kidney transplantation gives hope to thousands of patients with chronic kidney failure. It offers freedom from dialysis and the ability to lead a more active, healthier life. Sharp HealthCare's Kidney and Pancreas Transplant team uses the latest research, clinical trials and surgical techniques, as well as personalized drug therapy to meet your needs.

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"Some people would say why would you donate? For me, a human life is a human life," said Gwen. As for that scar on Annemieke's arm? "I like to say it's a shark bite, ha, ha, ha," laughed Annemieke. "It's so heroic to me, it still amazes me every day."

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The two women call themselves soul sisters for life. Their transplant surgeries took place on April 11, 2022. Both Annemieke and Gwen say they feel terrific.

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