This post was originally published in April 2016 and updated on April 7, 2021.
Receiving a Second Chance at Life
In 2013, Veronica Downing had a second chance at life thanks to her husband, and the paired exchange program. She needed a second kidney transplant after her mother donated her first kidney in 1996. Getting this second transplant added more years to her life. Without it, she feels she wouldn’t still be here.
Her husband, Ron Downing, wasn’t a match, but they didn’t give up. Working with the UVA Transplant Center, they entered the paired exchange program and became the first couple at UVA to participate in this.
Veronica received a new kidney, and Ron donated his to someone else. Veronica urges people not to give up if they’re not a match. This living donor program can help save someone’s life. After watching all the tests her husband went through to donate his kidney, she was confident in receiving hers. Since her transplant, she’s had a mix of good and bad days. She did battle sepsis shortly after her transplants but has since recovered from it.
Living with a Transplant
“It’s not an end, it’s a new beginning, but every day comes with a lot of variables,” Ron shares about his wife. As a transplant recipient, Veronica takes immunosuppressants to keep her immune system from rejecting the kidney. Her kidney is healthy, and each day, Veronica is still here, but this leads to more infections and a longer healing process.
After her first transplant, she finished her bachelor’s degree. After her second living donor transplant, she was able to bring her niece to the U.S. to attend college and now she works in healthcare. Veronica is very proud of both of these experiences.
A Blessed Life
Over the years, Veronica has been very blessed since her second kidney transplant because she witnessed three grandbabies be born, her youngest son got married, and her family visited from Korea. She wasn’t able to return to work but quickly realized her priority was her family and staying healthy. Wanting to do more, her husband reminds her that she’s an inspiration to all, and she’s influencing others without knowing it.
With more energy, thinking clearly, and living a healthy life, Veronica and Ron have recently moved to a local retirement community, Richfield Living. They enjoy the simple things in life in an independent living small two-bedroom villa with a fireplace and deck facing the beautiful mountains. Ron may be retired, but as a musician, he still performs. He was more active pre-COVID, but he’s finding ways to share his love of music on social media and at church. And Veronica sings in the chorus.
They recently got the COVID-19 vaccine, as Veronica’s health is always a concern. They’re still hoping to see more data with the vaccine and transplant recipients, but now they feel a little safer.
“She’s the hero. I just did what you do for a loved one,” Ron shares. “Here I am, a blessing and an extra day is a bonus,” says Veronica.
Veronica & Ron's Story
When Veronica Downing found out she needed a second kidney transplant, her husband, Ronald, stepped up. He went through the complete evaluation, only to find out he and his wife were not a match. The two were devastated.
Want to become a living donor?
Learn more about living kidney donations at UVA.
However, UVA transplant coordinator Anita Sites informed the Downings of another option. Paired donor exchange occurs when someone steps up to be a donor, like Ronald, but is not a match for their recipient. The donor then becomes a donor for someone else. For someone they've never met, who had the same issue — a donor stepped up, but wasn't a match. That donor's kidney is then passed onto another pair, and so on and so forth until the chain has gone full circle.
Paired donor exchange can involve a number of people across the country. The ultimate goal was to find Veronica a healthy kidney, and that's exactly what happened.
Great article! Very happy that you VA is participating in this program. Have been on dialysis for a little over six months. I am O positive so that is a type a kidney that rarely becomes available from what I understand. I have a willing transplant from a friend who is A+. Maybe someday we’ll be a part of this