Veronica Mullen walked toward the bright lights of Miami University’s basketball court. The director of women’s basketball operations for Miami then warmly put her arms around 27-year-old Jordan Ryan, whose life was saved by Mullen’s donated kidney.
The two have seen each other only a couple of times since they first tearfully met in August, days before both went into surgery to remove a kidney from Mullen and implant the organ into the stricken Ryan.
Without it, the Hamilton resident would have died as the disease Ryan has battled since she was 6 had already put her in dialysis for the last 13 years.
“I was on dialysis for so long,” Ryan said.
A previous kidney transplant years ago had failed in Ryan quickly, but this one has been accepted by her body, making her healthy for the first time in decades.
And that second chance on life has her grateful for Mullen’s life-saving gift and the bond they now share.
“It’s kind of hard not to be excited sitting next to her,” said Jordan as the two chatted during her visit to Miami’s Millet Hall, which houses Mullen’s office.
“I don’t think there is any bond quite like it,” she said of her relationship with Mullen. “She is just so selfless.”
Mullen said their first meeting with Ryan in August “was very emotional, when I left the (hospital room) I was just balling.
“Hearing her (Ryan) story and how long she has been on dialysis. She had basically grown up in a hospital.”
The organ exchange was done through the National Kidney Registry’s organ donation process that allows those who want to donate but may not be a suitable match for the person they want to receive their organ to instead donate to an ailing stranger.
Under the registry’s arrangement, Ryan’s husband Jimmy, who wasn’t compatible to give a kidney to his wife, instead donated to a Chicago resident via the organization. Jimmy’s life-giving gift then moved his wife up high on the national registry’s transplant recipient list and matched her with Mullen.
Mullen had previously seen how her best friend’s father thrived after a kidney transplant and decided to help the teenage son of a close friend who is a Miami professor.
The local teen had been on a waiting list for two years. Because of Mullen’s actions, the boy’s new kidney was successfully arranged and implanted from a donor in Philadelphia.
Mullen, a former college basketball player at St. John’s, has resumed play in local adult leagues and runs marathons.
She downplays her role as initiator of a domino-like series of life-saving blessings.
“I just wanted to help someone who needs it because one day you are going to need it yourself,” said Mullen, who added she agreed to reveal her decision publicly to help others consider donating organs to those in need.
“I hope just bringing this awareness to the forefront, that some people may start with minimal (moves) like organ donation on their (driver’s) license. Some of them will make it (organ donation) even bigger and impact somebody’s else’s life so that it snowballs.”
Ryan, who works at Fairfield Mercy Hospital as a patient care assistant and is finishing up her undergraduate degree, plans a career in health care.
“I have to do something with the gift she gave me,” said Ryan. “I’ve got this new energy in me and my goal is to become a transplant nurse.”