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Kidney donation from next door neighbor gives Maine woman a new lease on life

It's been one year since Jessica Begin donated a kidney to her next-door neighbor and best friend Catherine Campbell.

CLINTON, Maine — "When I wake up, it's a new life," Catherine Campbell said to herself before entering surgery to receive a new kidney. "It's a start over, it's a re-do, it's a second chance." 

Campbell was diagnosed with stage 4 chronic kidney disease in January 2021. At 12 years old, she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, which lead to her having just 19 percent function of her kidneys when she was told by doctors that she would need to receive a transplant.

Luckily for her, the perfect match for a kidney donation was right next doorher neighbor Jessica Begin. 

"I felt better immediately. The word I can use that makes the most sense is, I felt clean," Campbell said. 

NEWS CENTER Maine sat down with Campbell and Begin one week before their surgery last March. 

Now, one year after that surgery, life has changed for Campbell for the better.

"My energy level is probably better than it's been in 10 years. I think clearer, I'm on full force. I'm working full-time and made it to every single one of our youngest son's football games, almost every single one of his basketball games, and that was just not even a thought prior to this surgery," Campbell said.

"For her to be able to go to all of Lucas' events, I know that was a really big goal for her. It's great," Begin said.

Campbell said she spent roughly five weeks in Boston to return to Mass General Hospital for follow-up appointments. She added she had anticipated needing to stay up to eight weeks, so when she was discharged, she surprised her children and then walked to her next-door neighbor's house to surprise her as well. 

"It was a different walk. A healthy walk. And pretty much a miracle in itself," Campbell said. 

Campbell said since surgery, she's found a new love for gardening, which she shares with Begin. Strangely enough, it's not the only thing she picked up after surgery that she now shares in common with Begin.

"I didn't like ice cream, and after [the] transplant, I could not eat enough ice cream," Campbell said. Begin chimed in to say, "Well, I'm a pretty big fan."

The two have grown even closer throughout the past year. To mark one year after surgery, the two shared wine and a fine Italian dinner. It's the same meal the two had together prior to surgery with their husbands while quarantining together.

Even one year later, it sometimes feels surreal that their perfect match lived right next door.

"People ask all the time, how did you even find out," Begin said. "It's amazing, it's absolutely amazing, I still feel amazed by it."

The two hope their story can inspire someone to see if they could be someone else's perfect match, too.

"Look into it. You could change someone's life in so many different ways. Even just checking the organ donor box on your license could make a huge difference," Campbell said. 

Anyone with an interest in learning about becoming a living donor can visit the National Kidney Foundation website.

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