If you were given the opportunity to save a life, what would you do? When Sophia Jackson heard that New York City Police Department (NYPD) officer Vadrien Alston needed a new kidney, Sophia decided to become a living donor to get Vadrien off dialysis and back on her feet.
In 2020, Vadrien received a devastating diagnosis: renal failure. Twelve years earlier, she had received a kidney transplant from a close friend, but, unfortunately, it didn’t last forever. The NYPD officer and mother of two had to put her life on hold and go on dialysis.
Through a contact with the National Kidney Registry (NKR), Vadrien got to share her story at a televised press conference. Sophia, a New York City native but bound for Utah at the time, saw Vadrien on the news and decided that she wanted to help.
Sophia got tested to become a living donor—only to find out that she wasn’t a match for Vadrien. Fortunately, the story didn’t end there. Thanks to the NKR’s Standard Voucher Program, Sophia was able to donate to another recipient on behalf of Vadrien so that another donor who was a better match would give their kidney to Vadrien.
"It was like coming home and telling my family I’d won the lotto. That’s how I felt that she still decided to donate just for me. Even if it couldn’t benefit me directly, she was still willing to help. It was one of the best feelings that I’ve ever experienced."
– Vadrien Alston, two-time kidney transplant recipient
Sophia’s selfless act of kindness not only saved Vadrien’s life, but also impacted another transplant recipient who had been waiting for a matching organ.
Finding a compatible match is crucial, as it significantly lowers the chances of organ rejection. Blood and tissue typing tests determine whether someone is a compatible donor, but since there are a lot of compatibility factors, it can often be difficult to find a match.
"We need to normalize living organ donation. Someone’s life depends on it. People always ask ‘why would you donate to a stranger?’ My answer back is always ‘why not?’"
– Sophia Jackson, altruistic kidney donor on Vadrien's behalf
The NKR has created multiple systems like the Standard Voucher Program or the Paired Kidney Exchange to increase patients’ chances of receiving compatible kidneys and allow more people to become living donors.
Altruistic living donors like Sophia are invaluable in keeping the donation chain going to help save lives. If you’re considering becoming a living donor, sign up by using the link in the button below or in the right-hand sidebar.
Since my second transplant, life has been great. I've been able to bake chocolate chips cookies with my daughter. I have the energy for that. I've been able to go roller skating inside Prospect Park with my kids. I've been able to go back and protect and serve as a New York City police officer. So, life has been blessed, and that's all thanks to this beautiful soul, this beautiful angel, that took time to help me.
One day in the year of 2008, I was on my way to work, I ended up getting sick and found out that, unfortunately, I was experiencing renal failure and needed a kidney. I was blessed to have received a transplant by a very, very close friend of mine. After that, life was spectacular. I was able to live life, a normal life, so normal that even after post-transplant, I had a beautiful little girl. September 12, 2014.
I was living my best life with my new daughter and my son. In 2020, I found out that I was experiencing renal failure once again. I said “Listen, I know you don’t want to hear this, but you’re gonna have to go on dialysis.” My world just sank. People take for granted roller skating, people take for granted taking a bath, people take for granted going swimming, people take for granted sitting down in the living room with your child at nine o'clock at night. All of those things after a while being on dialysis, I couldn't do because I had to commit myself to being on a machine. Even though life may have been an inconvenience for me, I had to make sure that it wasn't an inconvenience for my kids. Being hooked up to that machine was the only option that I had at the time, so that's what had to be done.
So, when I was involved with the National Kidney Donation Organization, I was approached by a friend of police officer Vadrien Alston. She took a course of mine, and she remembered that I donated my kidney, and she said that she had a friend named Vadrien who needed help. And at the time, we had a press conference planned about a week later at One Police Plaza, and that's where the idea came that we should highlight Vadrien’s story at the press conference.
While at this press conference, there were a lot of news reporters there. They aired me speaking to the public telling my story. I was gracious to know that someone actually heard me.
I was on a work trip in Maryland, and—dirty habit I picked up living in New York my whole life: you turn on the news, you want to know what's going on—there was a news story about an NYPD officer that needed a kidney. And I thought, “Well, I can live a perfectly normal life with just one kidney, so I'll look into it when I get back to Utah.” Now back to Utah, I looked into it, it took about a month and a half, it was beginning of February before I was actually able to get an appointment to get tested to see if I was a match. A couple weeks went by, I finally got the call. My nurse coordinator, Elisa from Weill Cornell, calls, “Sophia, you weren't a match.” And it took a minute to process, and I thought, “Wait, did you say I'm not a match?” And I started crying, “How is it that I'm not a match for this person that I want to donate to?” She says, “But you can still help her.”
DR. JOSEPH DEL PIZZO:
Our team was able to talk to her about our Voucher Program and our Paired Exchange Program, where you can still help the person you want to help indirectly.
What a lot of people don't realize is that there are multiple ways that you could be a kidney donor. One is a Good Samaritan donor, which means that you don't know who the person is, you just want to give your kidney away to a stranger. And then there's another way, which is to be a voucher donor, and the National Kidney Registry has a Voucher Program. So, the Voucher Program means that you want to donate your kidney to someone, but you're not either a blood type or tissue type match, but the story doesn't have to end there, right? Because of the Voucher Program, you could donate into the National Kidney Registry so that that intended recipient could get a kidney out of the National Registry.
DR. SANDIP KAPUR:
We know that if someone comes here with a healthy donor that wants to do, that is healthy enough to do it, but they can’t donate to the person that they want to, we can enter them into the exchange, which is essentially a large computer algorithm that’s been developed. So, it becomes a very large statistical pool, and that large statistical pool really provides very good opportunities for those that participate.
And that's exactly what happened with Vadrien and Sophia. Sophia donated her kidney into the NKR so that Vadrien was able to redeem her voucher to get a kidney out of the NKR.
I picked my date, and I called Mike and told him, “We're gonna go, like we're gonna do this.”
It was like coming home and telling my family I won lotto. That's how I felt that she still decided to donate just for me. Even if it couldn't benefit me directly, she was still willing to help. It was one of the best feelings that I have ever experienced. I can't begin to thank her enough. My family thanks her.
I would like to say thank you to Miss Sophia because now my mom can do more than what she did before. We can do lots of fun stuff that we used to do.
Before her transplant, we used to order food a lot. Now I wake up and she's upstairs making breakfast. You can definitely hear her voice early in the morning, just sounding really happy and just being the amazing mom that she is.
When you can help other people, it's a blessing. A lot of people don't, but there's so many people that do, and these people are like angels. I'd like to say Sophia is one of those angels.
Today's a special day. This is going to be, no doubt, full of emotion because Officer Alston has not yet met Sophia Jackson. Right now, she will. So, without any further ado, count to five. Because in five seconds, you are going to meet Sophia Jackson.
Meeting Miss Sophia Jackson for the very first time, it’s like a sister from another mother, like we could sit down, we can joke about things. I felt wonderful being around her, I felt wonderful sharing little things with her, laughing with her, it was great.
This was worth it—seven months of the testing and the back and forth—absolutely worth it. She just, the smile on her face was enough. All I wanted to do was give her a hug at the end of all of this, and I got to do that. I got to meet her family, I got to spend time with her, and got to meet her coworkers, and you could just see how excited and happy they were. These people love her, like the love was overwhelming, the hugs that I got, the thank yous. I didn't deserve any of that. All I did was help another human being.
Sophia, now living her normal lifestyle, going back to doing everything she was doing, back in Utah. Vadrien, going back to work, being able to enjoy this time. A new healthy life for her with her children, all because Sophia donated her kidney on behalf of someone who she did not know.
If you're in this industry, if you're in the transplant industry, that's what keeps you going. That's the motivation, because there are so many other Sophia and Vadriens out there.
We need to normalize living organ donation. Someone's life depends on it. People always ask “Why would you donate to a stranger?” My answer back is always “Why not?” If you’re willing to help someone and you have the capabilities to do it, you should.
What she says to me: “Oh, you're a lifesaver because you go out there every day and you save people.” No, you, that's every day, you gave me something that's everlasting, and that's life. Sophia, thank you, thank you.