Kidney connections: Federal Way chorus members make life-saving match

Despite feeling horrible post-op, both Sue Middleton (left) and Sue Pisek were smiling just days after surgery. Middleton donated a kidney to Pisek in February. - Courtesy image
Despite feeling horrible post-op, both Sue Middleton (left) and Sue Pisek were smiling just days after surgery. Middleton donated a kidney to Pisek in February.
— image credit: Courtesy image

When one thinks of a kidney donation, it’s often in terms of donating to a loved one in order to save a beloved friend, husband, brother or mother. It’s not usually thought of in terms of the woman who sings a few sections over.

But that’s what a kidney donation was for Sue Middleton and Sue Pisek.

The Sues had met each other about 10 years ago in Federal Way’s Jet Cities Chorus. Pisek had joined then, while Middleton had already been doing it for a few years.

They sang together for 10 years, seeing each other at shows, retreats and through mutual friends.

About six or seven years ago, Pisek’s kidneys started giving her problems. She had polycystic kidney disease, a genetic condition. More than two years ago, she was put on the kidney transplant list.

“I was on dialysis, feeling lousy,” Pisek said. “Out of the blue, she sent me an e-mail...I was like really? Are you sure?”

Pisek already had one volunteer kidney donor fall through, so she didn’t get her hopes too high. She filed it away and let Middleton make the next step.

As for her gift of an organ, Middleton said she’s listed as an organ donor who gives blood. It was just always in her mentality.

Everyone in the chorus knew Pisek was having problems finding a kidney, Middleton said.

“It sounds strange, but I knew I would match,” Middleton said.

The next step was undergoing scores of testing. Middleton said her tests were the equivalent of four full days worth of testing. And she was right — she was a match.

She gave Pisek the news just before one of the choir performances.

“She met me at the door and said it’s a go,” Pisek said.

They originally planned to have the surgery right around this time, just after returning from the Jet Cities Chorus’s trip to Alaska for a competition. However, Pisek was having problems with her dialysis, so the surgery was set for before the competition — bumping it up to Feb. 19.

“The first week was hard,” Middleton said.

“I felt pretty crappy too,” Pisek added.

For Middleton, recovery was fairly quick. By a month she was feeling better, and by six weeks she was about 100 percent, she said.

Pisek, too, is feeling better, although she still gets tired easily.

They both made it to the chorus competition in Alaska two weeks ago.

Now both women have one working kidney, although Pisek has three in her body. In kidney surgeries, doctors don’t take out the non-functioning kidneys, since that would be too invasive. Instead, they add the third onto the front part of the lower abdomen area.

Both women have to be careful not to damage their one kidney.

“Now I have an excuse not to skydive,” Middleton joked.

But did sharing an experience like this bring them closer together?

“I recognize that there is this connection,” Pisek said. “It doesn’t automatically make us bosom buddies. You’ve shared something remarkable, but I don’t want to get weird about it.”

“It was meant to be I guess,” Middleton said.

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