Six Billboards Draw 60 Kidney Donors for Ailing Oregon Nurse

Marcia Frellick

April 04, 2018

Emergency nurse Roxanne Loomis, RN, 65, from Eugene, Oregon, had been on dialysis for 4 years and had exhausted many of her options for a kidney when her physician gave her an idea.

Nephrologist William Gutheim, MD, from Eugene, told her a former patient had taken out a billboard to solicit kidney donations.

Loomis' kidneys had been failing for 10 years. "Dialysis was draining my life away," and the sessions limited her ability to work, she told Medscape Medical News.

She was listed on the deceased kidney donor wait list in 2012, but the wait times in her region were at least 7 years. On the living-donor side, family and friends were not matches for various reasons. She was willing to try anything.

Company Sponsored the Billboards for Free

Loomis and her brother bought the original billboard for $1125 with a discount for 3 months. It read, "NEED: KIDNEY DONOR FOR EUGENE RN" and listed her phone number. Soon after, another billboard company, Lamar, called and asked if they could run her ad on five more empty billboards in Portland and Salem, Oregon.

Nurse Roxanne Loomis standing in front of her billboard on February 1, 2017. (Courtesy of Dana Downie)

When Loomis warily asked how much that would cost her, the answer was "nothing." "It was the biggest gift I could have gotten," she said.

Within weeks the calls were coming in and eventually hit about 60, Loomis said. Texts and calls were referred to Legacy Health in Portland.

One, from a fellow nurse in Portland, would result in a successful match and surgery on February 7, just more than a year after the first billboard went up.

"I decided the universe got tired of me pounding on the door," she said.

Match Came From Kidney Swap

The match didn't come directly from the Portland nurse, whose blood type wasn't a good match for Loomis, but that nurse set off a chain of donations with her agreement to be part of a United Network for Organ Sharing kidney exchange that eventually expanded to 10 donors and 10 recipients. The Portland nurse donated her kidney to a woman in Maryland on behalf of Loomis, and in a series of exchanges Loomis ended up getting a kidney from a 32-year-old athletic trainer from Chicago, Illinois.

Loomis said she never got unwanted calls from the billboard and said, "Honestly the thought never crossed my mind." She also had magnetic posters with her number on the sides of her car and friends' and family members' cars.

Patients may reject the thought of a billboard because of the cost, she said, but her case is proof that that's an obstacle that can be overcome, if not with a company donation, perhaps a crowdfunding site, she said. She also suggests posting something daily to a social media site to become more prominent in people's feeds.

"There Are Good People in the World"

Harvey Mysel, founder and president of the national Living Kidney Donors Network, said billboards are becoming more common in kidney donations. Whether it's right for a particular patient depends on level of comfort with mass exposure, he told Medscape Medical News.

However, he said, "Finding a donor is much like finding a job. The more people you speak to, the more likely you're going to find a job."

For someone on dialysis as long as Loomis, he said, you have to start thinking that you're fighting for your life.

"You need not only to reach people but touch them in a way that makes them go ahead and do this. There are good people in the world and what makes them do good things for others — there's no formula for it," Mysel said.

Getting Her Life Back

Loomis works part time at a small nurse-training company and said she is ready to return to working more hours, walking fast with her two dogs, and riding her horse. She also wants to travel as she sometimes did in her teaching career before nursing.

She got her life back in a day, she said. "You don't know how sick you are until you are no longer sick."

Loomis said the billboards had an added benefit in that she was told that when people went through the rigorous testing to see if they were a match they found things out about their own health status, in some cases prompting them to make changes in their own lives.

Lamar ran another billboard in late March — this time featuring a recovering Loomis and her daughter weeks after the transplant and urging people to make a living kidney donation.

Genna Neal, an administrative specialist at Lamar's Eugene office, told Medscape Medical News, "It was an honor for our company to be able to help her. It's a really good feeling to use your business for something this important. It changed her life."

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