It’s a lifesaving gift that started with an email.
Dennis and Pam Klenow of Clarkston have known for many years that their son Adam Klenow would likely need a kidney transplant someday.
Adam, 19, was born with multiple health problems and has undergone several surgeries.
“We had always assumed, well, it would just be me, right,” said Dennis Klenow. “I would be the donor. We were pretty devastated when that didn’t work out, and none of us worked out because we really wanted to be that person for him.”
When other relatives were also not a match, they became increasingly concerned.
“Very terrifying,” said Pam Klenow. “Because it goes through your head, ‘What if he doesn’t get one? What happens next? What do we have to do? How sick is he going to become?’”
Dennis teaches third grade at Independence Elementary School in Clarkston. He decided to ask the Clarkston Community Schools
district if they would be willing to send out an email sharing their situation.
“It’s a tough thing to ask for, right?” Dennis said. “As an employee, you never really want to ask too many favors, but we have such a supportive community in Clarkston on all fronts, from administration to our colleagues, our families, and I said, ‘Why not give it a shot?’”
The email read in part, “Adam’s family would like to reach out to the ever-supportive CCS staff community to see if anyone would be interested in being tested.”
The response was overwhelming.
“A dozen or so of my colleagues stepped up and said, ‘I want to be tested. I want to be the donor,’” Dennis said.
They weren’t just from his school, and not just coworkers, but their spouses too.
“To have these people that I call colleagues, and I work with every day, and I see around the district, to be willing to step up for someone that, like my son, they might never have met him,” Dennis said. “It’s just an amazing feeling. You know teachers are good people.”
But Adam’s perfect match turned out to be someone they already knew very well.
“I’ve known Jessica for over 21 years,” Dennis said. “We taught side by side in this building for probably 18 of those years. A really good friend.”
Jessica Sorensen teaches grades three, four, and five in Clarkston’s virtual program.
When she read the email, she didn’t hesitate to get tested.
“My initial reaction was I have to do it because I know without a shadow of a doubt if it were myself in that same position and I were asking for my children, that Dennis would do it, no questions asked,” said Sorensen. “He would’ve been in the car and on his way. I got a phone call just a couple of days later that I was not only a match, but an exact match.”
“She’s the type of person that would do anything for you,” Dennis said. “She’s very kind and loving and caring, and she always sees the big picture; she always sees the good in others. That somebody would step up and do that, you know, she is just an amazing individual.”
“It’s a miracle,” Pam said. “She’s giving my son a second chance. So, you can’t ask for more than that.”
Sorensen is married with two teenage daughters. She said her family has been very supportive of her decision.
“I think it would be a little bit weird if we weren’t a little bit nervous but more excited than anything else and happy,” Sorensen said.
The surgery was scheduled for the first week of her summer vacation.
“They’ve said to me at the hospital on more than one occasion, during some of the appointments that I had, ‘You do understand that there is no medical benefit to you to doing this,’” said Sorensen. “And I said, ‘Yes, I understand. The benefit is in my heart.’ That’s where this comes from, it’s all emotional, and I feel so good about it.”
On the morning of the surgery, Sorensen’s thoughts were on Adam.
“I prayed when I woke up that his little body would accept it, and that it would start working right away and he will heal and begin to feel a lot better than he’s felt in a long time,” said Sorensen.
Sorensen’s surgery is happening at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.
Dr. Atsushi Yoshida is the head of transplant and will remove Sorensen’s kidney robotically.
“It’s very unusual to have people donate a kidney to someone else besides a member of their family, and I think we want to try to encourage that more because it’s a safe operation,” said Yoshida.
As Sorensen heads into the operating room, she’s smiling and ready.
“I just have this sense of peace over me that it’s just what should be happening this morning for me and for Adam, so I feel really good,” said Sorensen. “There’s no question in my mind that it’s the right thing to do.”
The surgery went smoothly.
“Easier than expected, which is kind of nice,” said Yoshida. “No major problems at all and the perfect anatomy.”
Once Sorensen’s kidney is out, it’s carefully packed for a short drive to Children’s Hospital of Michigan, where Adam’s surgery will occur.
“I’ve already texted my partner at Children’s to let them know how the kidney looks and the timing, and he’ll do the same thing when he finishes,” said Yoshida.
It’s just a four-mile trip, but it’s been years in the making for Adam.
Receiving a kidney from a living donor has several advantages for the recipient. The surgery can occur before the recipient becomes too sick.
The kidney itself may be healthier and will likely last longer too. That’s especially important for young recipients like Adam.
At Children’s Hospital, Transplant Surgeon Dr. Ahmed Nassar and his team are ready as the kidney is safely delivered.
“Transplant is a community effort,” said Nassar. “There are 2,000 patients in the state of Michigan that are waiting for kidney transplants, and, unfortunately, not all the patients make it to receive the kidney transplant. Some patients, unfortunately, die on the waiting list. The awareness is very important for the whole community that living donation does save a life.”
After Adam’s surgery, the news was good.
“Surgery went great,” said Nassar. “Everything went as expected. We reestablish the blood flow, the critical part of the operation. Immediately afterward, when the kidney pinks up, there’s real joy in the operating room. Everyone’s happy. Everyone takes a deep breath.”
It was a moment of relief and hope.
“We just hope on the other side of this, he feels good and is healthy, and he’s happy, and we can return to a life of all those things that you want your kids to have. That’s our hope,” said Dennis.
It’s been just over a month since the surgery. Both donor and recipient are recovering well. Adam healed quickly and had tons of energy. Sorensen is still a little sore but overjoyed at the result of her donation.
For these teachers, it’s a lesson they hope to share with their students and beyond.
“I really feel like we’re here to do for others,” said Sorensen. “And if I can teach that to my students and my own children, that it’s important to give back, maybe, you know, this is kind of an extreme case, but I feel so good about it, and if people can be inspired by this act to give back to others then I feel like it’s successful.”
“I hope if they take anything away, it’s just when you have a chance to do something for a fellow human being, take that opportunity, right,” said Dennis. “There’s good in this world, there’s kindness, and anything we can do, don’t miss those opportunities.”