The ultimate gift: Clark University admissions director donates kidney to sister-in-law

Clark University Terry Malone, left, Clark University's director of admissions, donated a kidney to her sister-in-law Amy Malone in March 2013.

It was approximately 3 p.m. on Tuesday, March 19. Somewhere in a hospital at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio, a young woman on a gurney reached for her iPhone. That patient, unable to stifle her need to contact her Clark University “family” back in Worcester, sent an email. Moments later, Clark’s Admissions House roared. They’d had a running bet about how soon Terry Malone ’01, M.S.P.C. ’09, would be checking in.

Malone, Clark’s director of admissions, had disobeyed orders to refrain from email. She knew her brother Joe had a list of colleagues to notify about the status of her surgery, but she was determined to make sure nobody went too long without confirmation. She is a fixer, after all.

And fix things she did for her sister-in-law Amy Malone. A year prior, Amy, 36, was diagnosed with Wegener’s disease, an auto-immune disorder that attacks the sinuses, kidneys and lungs. After visiting her doctor for a routine medical appointment, Amy received an urgent call from her physician, informing her that her kidney function was below 10 percent. She urgently needed a kidney transplant.

Learning from her older brother that his high school sweetheart and mother of her nephew was facing a life-threatening condition, Terry immediately started to investigate what she could do to help. The words printed on her license “ORGAN DONOR” now had a purpose and a promise. Terry, 34, raced to fill out forms and undergo rigorous (and seemingly endless) tests to determine if she was a match for her sister-in-law.

Even before Amy was approved for the procedure, Terry had conversations with Dean of Admissions Don Honeman, her supervisor, and Human Resources to discuss the idea. Her colleagues were supportive from the start.

In May 2012, Terry started the paperwork, which included her medical and family histories, and underwent extensive testing of her blood, urine and tissues. She also had MRIs, CT scans, and, basically, “the best medical workup you could ever imagine” to ensure she was healthy enough for the operation. The process also included meetings with psychologists and financial consultants to anticipate any emotional responses to the surgery or financial considerations.

In June, Terry flew out to Ohio to spend a full day meeting with doctors and undergoing further testing. “By the end of that day, we knew I was a match,” she recalls.

While Terry and Amy were pinpointing August dates for the procedure (which also happened to be Terry’s first-ever surgery), they received news that a CT scan revealed spots on Terry’s liver. The two were forced to put the process on hold for another six months (and another CT scan), to ensure Terry was healthy enough to serve as her donor. They received the green light to proceed in mid-January.

The operation was scheduled for March 19. Don’t ask her how long the laparoscopic procedure took — Terry doesn’t know. What she does know is that she bounced right back. She was discharged from the hospital a day early, attended a carnival in Cleveland with a friend (and even rode the Ferris wheel) approximately two weeks later, and was back to work full time less than a month after surgery.

It came as no surprise to family and friends that Terry leaped at the opportunity to donate her kidney to Amy. She spends her days recruiting students to Clark, and, in her free time, volunteer for local organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, Big Brothers Big Sisters and at a local homeless shelter.

“The fact that Terry was willing to be poked, prodded, and tested from one end to the other was nothing short of admirable,” Amy says. “I respect and admire her for her willingness to be so selfless.”

When Amy learned she was in complete kidney failure, she was overwhelmed. Not only had she just lost her mother to cancer, she was pregnant — and would soon lose — a child. According to Amy, Terry was supportive “from day one.”

“It’s not too often that somebody you love is sick and you can actually do something about it,” Terry says. “I never second-guessed that it was the right thing to do.”

Malone is now part of a Facebook group of kidney donors. She also plans to participate in the four-mile National Kidney Foundation Walk in Boston for the second year in a row on Oct. 27.

Terry wonders aloud about whether to include her personal experience as a kidney donor in her fundraising letter.

She smiles. “It’s kind of like, ‘I gave my kidney. Can you give ten bucks?’”