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  • Gary Simmont and Laurel Weetall were dog-loving acquaintances as of fall 2018, but that didn’t stop Simmont from donating his kidney to Weetall when he learned they shared the same blood type.
    Photo Provided
    Gary Simmont and Laurel Weetall were dog-loving acquaintances as of fall 2018, but that didn’t stop Simmont from donating his kidney to Weetall when he learned they shared the same blood type.
  • Gary Simmont and Laurel Weetall were dog-loving acquaintances as of fall 2018, but that didn’t stop Simmont from donating his kidney to Weetall when he learned they shared the same blood type.
    Photo Provided
    Gary Simmont and Laurel Weetall were dog-loving acquaintances as of fall 2018, but that didn’t stop Simmont from donating his kidney to Weetall when he learned they shared the same blood type.

Share Your Spare: Pasadena’s Gary Simmont Donates Kidney To Fellow Dog Lover

Zach Sparks
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View Bio
June 12, 2018

As the owner of Body by Simmont, Gary Simmont regularly scrutinizes vehicles to assess damage and needed repairs. Although he is no doctor, it took only one look at Laurel Weetall to notice something was wrong.

“She was always anemic, always in pain,” Simmont said.

In 2005, Weetall was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease, a genetic disorder that causes cysts on the kidneys. No treatment was available, but she knew she eventually might need a kidney transplant.

“With a kidney donation, before you can look for a donor, they want you to fail to a certain point,” Weetall said.

Last October, her situation reached that point and she was added to the waiting list, a precarious place for many people. As of June 7, 2,654 people in Maryland were waiting for a kidney, part of the nationwide total of 95,188 according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Living Kidney Donor Network estimates that 5,000 people die every year waiting for a kidney transplant.

“I was in a lot of pain,” Weetall said. “Your kidneys grow and grow and grow, so people thought I was pregnant.”

People wait an average of three to five years for a kidney. A donor and recipient are checked for compatible blood types, tissue types and cross-matching, a process that determines whether the recipient’s body will attack the new kidney.
Luckily, Weetall, a photographer and dog lover, met Simmont through a mutual interest: the All Shepherd Rescue, a nonprofit in Baltimore.

Weetall and a friend traveled to Pasadena to meet Simmont’s 120-pound German Shepherd, Sam, and to get a car appraised. Having seen a Facebook post in which Weetall addressed her need for a kidney donor, Simmont noted that he had the same blood type as Weetall, O positive, and that he would get tested.

“I wasn’t sure if he was serious,” Weetall said.

Simmont ruminated over the decision. He fielded concerns from two daughters — a pharmacist and a nurse.

It was November 2017 when he arrived at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C. There, he had an X-ray, blood drawn, a stress test and an MRI. Weetall called the testing “extremely intense,” an assessment echoed by Simmont.
“They very thoroughly researched my history,” he said of the medical staff. “The only way they will let the donor donate is if they are not in danger of compromising their life.”

He had a family history of colon cancer and he had once had prostate cancer, but his current health was impeccable.

During separate operations in March 2018, Simmont had his left kidney removed by Dr. Jennifer Verbesey, and Weetall received the kidney thanks to Dr. Matthew Cooper.

Weetall had a bilateral nephrectomy, meaning both her native kidneys were removed. “A normal kidney is less than a pound,” Simmont said. “Her two were over 20 pounds.”

Flying in from Las Vegas was Weetall’s father, who had a heart transplant 13 years prior. He passed away two months after his daughter’s surgery. “He was the first person I saw when I woke up,” Weetall said.

Because she had a living donor as opposed to a cadaver, Weetall can expect her kidney to last nearly twice as long. The average lifespan of a kidney from a living donor, according to MedStar, is 17 to 18 years.

Although, for now, she can’t be in crowds, she can’t fly and she can’t eat sushi, Weetall is noticeably better, said Simmont.

“She had good color, she had a sparkle in her eyes,” he said after meeting with her in June. “She looked different. She said, ‘I’m not in constant pain anymore, because of what you did.’ I don’t think I understood the enormity of the gift she was getting until after the transplant.”

As for Simmont, he said, “Twelve weeks from transplant, I don’t feel any different. I don’t urinate any different; that’s a question I get. I wanted to do something kind and not everyone know about it, but I think it’s important to talk about it because there are so many misconceptions.”

Simmont called the kidney donation “only a bump in the road for me, but a much bigger risk for her.” Cooper explained that assessing donor and recipient complications is an apples-to-oranges comparison. Donors, at worst, might experience wound infections or bleeding whereas recipients, because of the kidney problems they had before surgery, can have high blood pressure and increased risk of cancer in extreme cases.

Knowing he faces far less long-term risk than Weetall, Simmont said he would do it again.

“I’ve been sober for 35 years. I feel like I owe something back when I can,” he continued. “I’m her big brother and she’s my little sister now.”

Weetall encourages others to donate their kidneys. Even if a person is not a match for a friend or loved one, he or she can do a kidney exchange by donating a kidney to a stranger, allowing another stranger to donate a kidney to the donor’s recipient of choice.

“People are so hesitant,” Weetall said. “They don’t understand organ donation. Basically, share your spare. You have two kidneys, but you only need one.”

Comments

Posted 12/31/1969 07:00 PM

I'm proud to know a guy like Gary. Please bring him your auto body work. Supporting such a great local businessman is definitely a good thing to do. He gives back to the community, please support his efforts !!!

Posted 12/31/1969 07:00 PM

Very impressed with the generosity of Gary Simmont. It's a pleasure reading good news about people in our community.

Posted 12/31/1969 07:00 PM

https://www.organdonor.gov/index.html

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