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Maine musician to get kidney from artist after long search

Dustin Saucier will receive a kidney from artist Laura Dunn next week at Maine Medical Center.

MAINE, USA — A long search is over for a Bangor man who desperately needs a new kidney. Dustin Saucier now has something to celebrate: life.

Saucier, a musician, has had diabetes most of his life. For more than a year, Saucier has spent 16 hours a week in dialysis, having waste products and excess fluids removed from his blood because his kidneys don't function properly.

A year ago, NEWS CENTER Maine reported on his need for a kidney. A woman from Biddeford was watching that report and went through the rigorous testing process to see if she could donate a kidney to Saucier.

Laura Dunn is a perfect match.

Saucier will soon receive the gift of life.

After a year of tests at the Maine Transplant Program at Maine Medical Center, doctors told Dunn she is healthy and qualified to help Saucier.

"I saw that piece, and really, his story just really struck me," Dunn said. "And I just liked who he was, and it resonated with me."

Dunn said she thought she was too old to donate a kidney but quickly found out she isn't. The 59-year-old said she's always wanted to donate a kidney to help someone who desperately needs one to survive.

"It just feels right. It's like, intuitive, and there wasn't really ever a question," Dunn said.

Dunn said the surgery takes 2 to 3 hours.

"We will both go in at the same time," she said. "I'll have my surgery. They'll remove my kidney, and he is in the next room waiting."

Saucier said he's been able to feel his body failing.

"All the side effects that come along with kidney disease and kidney failure, fatigue, memory loss, feeling sick," he said. "So this couldn't have come at a better time."

Transplant surgeon Juan Palma is the director of Living Kidney Donation at Maine Medical Center.

"In Maine, we are very fortunate where about 10% of the donors that we have are what we call Good Samaritans' basically people that they just come knock on our door. They don't have a person by name that they know that is suffering [from] kidney disease and just say, 'Hey, I'm healthy. Can you evaluate me?' That's amazing!" Palma said.

Of 200 people in Maine waiting for a kidney transplant, only 45 to 50 will find a match.

The process to qualify as a donor is rigorous.

"We need to check the patients from head to toe, be sure their hearts are in good shape [and] their lungs are in good shape so they can tolerate the surgery," he said.

Recipients recover in the hospital for three to four days and then for the first three to six months their bodies are adjusting to anti-rejection medications.

Most patients receive kidneys from deceased donors, but Palma said in Maine, most donors are living.

“Last year, 27 of the 50 transplants were from living donors," he said.

The complication rates are meager, he said, and diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure in Maine. 

"For the 200 people that are listed, 40% of those have diabetes as their main diagnosis," Palma said.

"I just had a kidney function test done recently," Saucier said. "It's supposed to be over 60% in order to be considered OK and normal. And right now, my kidneys are functioning at 6%, so I am at the very end of my kidneys' function right now."

Dunn said she gives a lot of credit to Saucier for his vulnerability.

"Putting yourself out there is not an easy thing to do, in any way," she said. "He is a musician. But even just showing that vulnerability of that 'I need something' ... I just think that's a really strong character trait."

"I myself, I'm an artist. I'm a visual artist, and my recent thought is that this will probably be my greatest artwork ever, my greatest art piece!" Dunn said.

Saucier released a new music album that he's been working on to decompress through this process. 

He said Dunn's gift would forever change his life.

"From the bottom of my heart, I don't know how I'll be ever able to repay you for the gift you are giving me," Saucier told Dunn.

"I'm forever indebted to her, and I hope that post-transplant, we will be able to kind of forge a good relationship and maintain a relationship in each other's lives," he said.

They will both undergo surgery on Feb. 8.

To learn more about becoming a donor, call 207-662-7180.

To apply to become a donor, visit the Maine Transplant Program.


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