October 6th is less than two weeks away! And why is that relevant? UNOS, the United Network for Organ Sharing, is hosting its 9th annual Soirée, which we will be attending. There's lots of reason to attend the Soirée, starting with the mission.
What is UNOS?
UNOS (pronounced you-nos and not uuu-nos, you know!) is the matchmaker between available organs and those who need them. A lot goes into the matching, taking into consideration time, geographical location, blood type, age and more.
The UNOS Soirée is a night of celebration for all the donors, recipients, family members and supporters. And you know what makes a great celebration? Food.
This past weekend, we got to sample one of the 20-something dishes that will be at the Soirée. We met Chef Christine Wansleben of Mise En Place and had the pleasure of trying out the unique dish she’ll be serving next Friday: spiced shredded roast pork with sweet potato and pear hash. The pears come right from Christine’s garden! And don’t worry, this dish will be available minus the pork at the Soirée in case you’re vegetarian (and the hash is the best part!). Also, Christine is cognizant of organ recipients’ and donors’ needs: kidney recipients and donors especially need lower protein since they only have one kidney.
Kidneys are one of two organs that can be supplied by a living donor (the liver being the other one). Most people have two kidneys, but our bodies can function with only one.
Christine has three kidneys.
While we (that's generous, we didn't help at all) cooked the dish, we got a deeper understanding of the importance of organ donation and how Christine got involved with UNOS.
When Christine contributed to UNOS’s Soirée in 2013, she didn’t have a personal connection. She simply answered an ad in the Times-Dispatch. A year later, she was the first food vendor at the Soirée to also be on UNOS’s organ recipient wait list.
In June 2013, Christine began noticing her body wasn’t doing so well. She found her ankles and wrists swelling. Then came the morning she could not hold her toothbrush. But Christine had to take her kids to soccer practice, she had a catering event later that day, and she also needed to do laundry.
Something had to be addressed. Blood tests gave multiple false positives: Lyme disease, fifth disease, mono, etc. Doctors treated her, but the symptoms returned once the meds wore off.
After two months of pain, anxiety and sleep deprivation, she showed up at the ER and was asked to pee into a cup. That was the first time she had been asked for a urinalysis after months of visiting Patient Firsts, her primary care physician (she’s since changed), and specialists. Even biopsies didn't show what was revealed hours later: Her kidneys were operating at 10% capacity.
A nephrologist at UNC Chapel Hill (*the* kidney center to go to, we're told) soon diagnosed her with ANCA Vasculitis. It’s an autoimmune disease. Aka they don’t know what actually causes it.
Organ donation was not her immediate choice. She tried oral and intravenous medications for several months. She also watched her diet (which had never been bad; this is a classically trained chef after all). Finally, she went on dialysis. Dialysis required her to show up to the dialysis three times a week for four hours at a time. Eventually she transitioned to peritoneal dialysis, which allowed her the "convenience" of doing it at home.
It was “the worst place in the world to ever be if you don’t want to be there,” Christine reflected not so fondly. (But the staff were wonderful, she added.)
Surrounded by patients in a similar predicament, but many with no hope—just a perpetual existence of days spent hooked to a machine centrifuging bodily fluids—she felt despair. She could not stay here forever. She had two young kids. She had a business to run.
The first step to getting a new organ is signing up on the UNOS list. However, a kidney donation can take years. The best route to go is with a living donor. She asked her brother and dad. That’s not an easy ask.
Ultimately, neither of their kidneys matched hers. Thankfully, there are services who can match a recipient and donor pair with another recipient and donor pair that have matching organs. Locally, Virginia Transplant Center facilitates this.
Even this method can take time. Christine was unloading her shopping cart in a Costco parking lot when she got the call. It had been three weeks.
“Are you excited?” the operator asked.
Her dad called right after. He had gotten the same call. He was one month shy of his 70th birthday, but he would do anything for his daughter.
Days later, Christine’s dad donated his kidney to an at-the-time anonymous recipient in California. The next day she received a kidney from that Californian recipient’s friend. They were a 95% match. And that is how she got her third kidney. (They don’t remove the defunct kidneys.)
Weeks later, she returned to work, making recipes like this shredded pork at Mise En Place, and raising her kids. And her dad has gone to New Zealand and other faraway places since he's donated, proving that you don’t have to be young to donate nor does giving take away from your life afterward.
The whole experience has only invigorated Christine’s passion for giving back to UNOS and raising awareness for organ donation. This is why she returns each year to the UNOS Soirée and representing Mise En Place. And that is why you want to try this dish! Other than it also just tastes delicious.
Personally, Sara grew up hating pork (sorry, Mom). However, this pork was amazing (to both of us; Cazey never hated pork). It was tender, juicy and rich in flavor. The hash was awesome complement to the meat—and also its own standalone dish if you want it to be. (We have the recipe and will share it if you ask nicely.)
To try it yourself, grab your Soirée tickets now before they sell out. Other participating vendors include F.W. Sullivan’s and Lady N’Awlin’s (previous Richmond Brunch Weekend participants), Olio, Buz and Ned’s, Belle Isle Moonshine and Mama J’s. The full list is on the event’s website.
If you can’t make the event, then you can also check out Mise En Place in Shockoe Bottom. It’s a great place to book a cooking class or some corporate team building. And if you would like to donate to UNOS (money, we're not asking for an organ...yet), you can do that too.
Our last request is to become an organ donor. We promise, you won't miss them when you're gone.
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