Organ donor gives SWFL woman lifesaving kidney

Published: Updated:
While on her honeymoon, doctors told Marissa Arvonio she was in kidney failure. She went from a happy newlywed to being on a survival mission, waiting for a match.  (Photo courtesy of Marissa Arvonio)

A Southwest Florida woman’s years-long journey to find a donor has come to an end.

While on her honeymoon, doctors told Marissa Arvonio she was in kidney failure. She went from a happy newlywed to being on a survival mission, waiting for a match.

911 calls, feeding tubes and surgeries were regularities of Arvonio’s life for as long as she can remember. Then, it got worse.

“Over a two- or three-week period very rapidly, I just began getting very weak and unable to use my lower extremities and then all the way up through my stomach and my arms.”

After a rare autoimmune disorder damaged her nerves, Arvonio was told she’d never walk again – during what was supposed to be one of the happiest times of her life.

“I actually got that call on my honeymoon from my last set of labs that my kidneys were in failure. So there is no longer medication to treat this – transplant should be looked into as soon as possible.”

“As soon as possible” turned into years, until, “I was gifted with my kidney-pancreas transplant on my 35th birthday. Despite the pandemic and everything happening in the world, I received that miracle.”

2020 proved to be a record year for LifeLink, with 295 organ donors resulting in 913 organs transplanted.

“We have about 11.5 million people registered to save lives through donation; that actually makes us the third largest registry in the country,” said Ashley Moore, chair of Donate Life Florida.

Moore said even if everyone signs up to become an organ donor, there still wouldn’t be enough matches to save everyone in need, which is why stories like Arvonio’s are so important.

“The more transparent we can be and talk about donation and educate people, the more likely somebody is going to register and sign up,” Moore said.

“A lot of myths and misconceptions about donation is truly what holds people back. And so when we talk about it and bring it to the forefront, more people will register because it’s not so scary.”

Arvonio is happy her wait has finally ended and she has her life back.

“I am living my life for the first time and I’m about to be 36 years old. It’s a completely different feeling that I could never explain.”

Since the transplant, she’s no longer diabetic, her autoimmune disorder is in remission, and she traded her wheelchair in for a new set of wheels.

“The week after transplant, I began walking one mile, and as of today I biked 15 miles every single day.”

All because someone here in Southwest Florida checked a box.

Donate Life Florida said what holds people back from becoming donors are misconceptions, like the idea that you have to be perfectly healthy to donate. That isn’t true: Even if your kidneys only function at about 80%, that can help someone whose kidneys function at only 5%.

There also isn’t an age limit for donors. Donate Life Florida said their oldest donor was 92.

For more information on organ donation and how you can sign up, click here.

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