Beth Allen: living donor. Such an extraordinary descriptor.
Allen, a relatively unknown American professional who plays in Europe, tries to downplay the gift as “a given.” Allen and her older brother, Dan, didn’t talk much about the kidney she gave him through a transplant on March 1.
“We never had an official conversation or anything,” Allen said. “I told my mom I was going to go and see.”
The process began last summer, and on Feb. 2 Allen received word while playing in the Australian Women’s Open that she’d been approved to donate. Doctors told Allen that nothing was certain until she was wheeled in for surgery, but a day after the procedure, Beth and Dan are doing fine.
“I haven’t seen him yet but my mom said that he looks better than he has in years,” she wrote in an e-mail after the surgery. “He will be out of the ICU this morning and I will get to see him later.”
Beth also updated her Twitter page with the good news: “I’m all done! Feels like I’ve done 10 million sit ups but I’m ok!”
Beth, 29, treks the world playing a game that’s the very fabric of the entire Allen family. Yet the independence she enjoys is lost on Dan, 38, who has a rigid 7 p.m. daily curfew in San Diego. “I’m like Cinderella,” he says, laughing. That’s when he must begin the daily 10-hour dialysis treatment that sustains his life. Dan has been married to a machine for the past five years.
“He doesn’t even know what it’s like to do what we take for granted,” said Beth, a graduate of Cal State-Northridge.
At age 26, Dan Allen went to see his physician for a bout of hay fever. His doctor came to the golf course where Dan worked to tell him that his kidneys were the size of a 13-year-old’s. In 1999, Dan received his first transplant.
Dr. Bryan Becker, immediate past president of the National Kidney Foundation, said the median life of a transplant recipient is 11-13 years. Allen has been back on the transplant list for 13 months. His mother, Carolyn, tried to donate last year but was rejected for health reasons.
The Allens have had more than their share of health issues. Jim Allen, a PGA professional who taught Beth and Dan and served as San Diego city golf manager from 2000 to ’04, died in 2006 of cancer at age 60.
Jim caddied for Beth at the start of the LPGA season in ’05 and went home feeling ill. He soon was diagnosed with melanoma, which eventually spread to his lymphatic system. He insisted Beth keep playing. Jim died the next year, while she was across the country at the Corning Classic in New York.
“Every time I called home, he would tell me not to come back,” Beth said. She recorded her first ace in an LPGA event the week he died, and she believes it’s no coincidence.
Dan Allen shares his sister’s passion for the game but, with a weakened immune system, is the ultimate fair-weather player. He works at Mission Bay Golf Course, a par-3 facility, and plays as much as his body will allow.
He described his sister’s sacrifice as “beyond words.”
Beth’s surgery date also kicked off National Kidney Month. Becker said the waiting list for kidneys numbers about 78,000. About 16,000-17,000 transplants are performed each year, he said; of those, about 7,000 are from living donors.
Beth’s stronger kidney is no guaranteed cure for Dan, but Becker said there are patients who have received three to five transplants.
As for donors, they’re generally able to lead long, healthy lives with one kidney. Beth’s kidney function will be roughly 10 percent less than if she had two healthy kidneys. She’ll likely need six weeks to recover from the surgery, her longest break from golf. Becker said she will feel the pull on her incision when she swings.
“It will be a constant reminder to her for a while of having donated,” Becker said.
Allen returns to San Diego on Feb. 21, after the New Zealand Open, and will have pre-op appointments. She hopes to return to the Ladies European Tour in May.
Two years ago, Atlanta’s Kathie McClure offered her kidney to a local chef. McClure and her family had eaten at Dan Krinsky’s South American restaurant, Tierra, for a decade when she learned through a newspaper article that he needed a kidney.
“It’s like having a baby,” McClure said. “When it’s over, you don’t really think so much about what you went through to get where you got.”
McClure, 56, a mother of two, said her family supported her decision. A grateful Krinsky and his family were coming over to the McClures’ last Sunday evening for a Super Bowl party.
“I can go over (to Tierra) and have tres leches whenever I want,” McClure said, laughing.
Allen hopes to have an ending as sweet as McClure’s. She is understandably scared of the unexpected, but believes the concerns don’t outweigh the potential good.
“He’s been sick my entire adult life,” she said of her brother.
So she has bestowed the gift of freedom.