Donated kidney is a gift of life |

Donated kidney is a gift of life

Photo for The Union John Hart
John Hart | The Union

Paul Taillefer has never been one to visit a doctor. If something bugged him, he just figured it would pass, and for the most part, it did.

But 10 years ago — at the age of 44 — the Grass Valley glazier started getting acute headaches, and when his urine took on a reddish tint, a friend insisted he go in for a check-up. After a few simple tests, Taillefer was surprised to find himself on the way to the hospital the very same day.

“My body was rejecting my kidneys as though they didn’t belong,” he said. “I was shocked.”

Right away, Taillefer began chemo and steroid therapy and, in the following weeks and months, gained about 60 pounds. Despite grueling and intensive treatment, after three long years, he knew what lay in store: dialysis.

“I feel alive again.”

— Paul Taillefer

For the next seven years, Taillefer made regular visits to the DaVita Dialysis Center in Grass Valley, routinely forced to break up his work days at Moule’s Paint and Glass. It became an uncomfortable routine, week after week, but there were no other options, he said.

“I knew that eventually dialysis would not work for me. I mean I’d lost friends who were on the machine,” said Taillefer. “For years, we’d see each other the same days at the same time, so I knew dialysis was just a life-extender, not a lifesaver.”

In addition, Taillefer was on a kidney transplant list — but he estimated his wait to be about seven years before a cadaver with a healthy kidney would become available. The long wait weighed heavily on him, as dialysis was becoming increasingly taxing on his heart.

Then, one day, something extraordinary happened.

A family friend, 34-year-old Shannon Cotter — a senior accountant at The Union — told Taillefer she wanted to talk.

“I told Paul I wanted to donate one of my kidneys to him — I knew his health was failing,” said Cotter, who has five children and a stepson. “I’d done the research, talked to my family and put a lot of thought and prayer into the decision.”

Initially, Taillefer waived it off. He’d had offers in the past that didn’t pan out, and he didn’t want to set himself up for another disappointment.

“I told her no. I didn’t want to lose her as a friend — what if she got scared, backed out and felt guilty?” he said. “Then she started to cry and told me she’d been thinking about this for years, that it felt like the right thing to do. She said the only way this wouldn’t happen is if she wasn’t a match.”

After a lengthy conversation, Taillefer agreed to give Cotter the phone number of the transplant coordinator at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco.

“I let it go at that — no expectations,” he said. “Weeks later I get a call from Shannon.”

“How’s Aug. 8?” she asked.

“For what?” Taillefer asked.

“Your surgery,” said Cotter, who had spent days in San Francisco undergoing extensive testing, which revealed she was a perfect match.

“It took me awhile to believe it,” Taillefer said. “In fact, I didn’t believe it until she called on Aug. 6 to see if my bags were packed.”

Fully informed of the risks and complications — which were far fewer than she’d imagined — Cotter said she wasn’t nervous until she was in the operating room, surrounded by a surgical team. But as expected, all went smoothly, with the exception of Taillefer’s surgery delay due to emergency dialysis. The kidney was then placed “on ice” for about four hours.

“I was afraid they were going to give it to someone else,” Taillefer said. “But it all worked out.”

After a few short days in the hospital, both Cotter and Taillefer were doing so well they were home in their own beds and surrounded by a support network of family and friends. After the first night, Taillefer woke up crying — it had been years since he’d had a good night’s sleep.

Cotter continues to be embarrassed and uncomfortable with the praise she’s received for what others are calling a selfless act of compassion. After doing the initial research, she wonders why more people don’t consider donating a kidney, as most donors go on to live normal, healthy lives, she said.

“My younger children were asking about my incision,” said Cotter. “I explained that Paul was sick and the doctors took something out of me and gave it to him, and now he’s better.”

Taillefer, on the other hand, continues to be deeply moved and in awe of Cotter and her “gift,” insisting it has restored his faith in humanity.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cried thinking about what Shannon has done for me,” he said. “If not for her, I may not have lasted another year. Shannon has given me faith I’ve never had before. It was an impeccable, astonishing act and she didn’t have to do it. We’re family now — I have her DNA.”

But Taillefer doesn’t stop there.

“I had no idea how sick I was — I feel alive again,” he said. “It’s like light and dark, night and day. Colors are brighter. If just one person donates a pint of blood from this story or puts a donor stamp on their driver’s license, it’s been more than worth it.”

Cotter is now back in the office part time, and will be transitioning to full time this week.

But Taillefer has other plans.

“As soon as my meds are stabilized, I’m going to hop on my bike and ride across the country with a friend,” he said. “It’s going to be the trip of a lifetime.”

To contact staff writer Cory Fisher email or call (530) 477-4203.

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