Hughes & Coleman Hometown Hero: Kristin Cartwright
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) - Kristin Cartwright tragically lost her father, Mark Yoho, to kidney disease in April 2019. She had just successfully defended her Master’s thesis at Western Kentucky University that morning and was able to share that triumph with him before he passed away that night.
“Mark, my father, was my life,” Cartwright said, “He was my best friend.”
He had been chronically ill for a long time, but it did not stop him from doing everything he could with Kristin.
At 18, her father was diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney Disease. It is a rare genetic disorder that caused his kidneys to swell to the size of a football and put him through a lot of pain.
Once his kidneys began to fail, he was placed on a transplant list and started dialysis.
Without telling her father, Kristin got tested so that she could donate her kidney to save his life and surprised him with the news that she had been approved. “It was the best news he had ever gotten,” Cartwright said.
However, shortly after receiving the news, his kidneys had grown so large that doctors made the decision to remove both of his kidneys. His body went into a sharp decline when his body didn’t recover the way it should have.
The decline in his health caused him to be removed from the transplant list.
His passing inspired her to work in a dialysis clinic to serve others who were sick like her father.
To further honor Mark, Kristin decided to donate her kidney to someone that needed it.
“I knew that was something that I was kind of called to do so I decided to make the decision to get back onto the list to donate and then I got approved as a donor again,” she said.
Cartwright was still attending classes at WKU for Physical Therapy when she made the decision to save someone else’s life.
Her husband Nathan, whom she was dating at the time, worried that she might develop the same illness that took her father. However, he was supportive of her decision and went with her to her appointments and testing.
The final genetic test required for donation showed that Kristin did not have the gene for Polycystic Kidney Disease.
“She’s very altruistic,” Nathan said, “She gets happiness out of giving.”
Rachel Tinius, a friend of Cartwright’s, was her research mentor and Professor in Exercise Science at the time.
“She sees life through the lens of so much bigger than herself and I think there are very few people that see life that way,” Tinius said.
Tinius said that meeting Cartwright was a turning point in her career as she learned how much some students are dealing with outside of class. “She was dealing with a lot of adversity a lot of students don’t have to deal with,” Tinius said.
All of Cartwright’s professors worked with her around appointments and pre-op testing. They even provided extra help after class to ensure that she was caught up with her lessons.
At the time, not everyone knew what Cartwright was doing. The only people that knew about it were the people that needed to know.
“My parents always raised me to be humble and if you’re going to do something for someone else, you don’t brag or boast about it, you just do it,” she said.
The recipient of her kidney is a gentleman in New Mexico named Lloyd Turner, with whom she communicates regularly.
“Kristen’s selfless gift to honor her father is something I can never repay,” Lloyd said. “I know her family is proud of her, I sure am.”
Cartwright says Lloyd is around the same age and has a similar sense of humor as her late father.
“There are times when we communicate when I feel like my father is speaking through the process,” said Cartwright.
According to the CDC, about 37 million adults are estimated to have chronic kidney disease. Diabetes and high blood pressure are leading causes of kidney failure, leaving some of those living with kidney diseases with no other choice but to have a lifesaving transplant.
The waiting list for a kidney transplant can range from 3 to 5 years, but in some cases, patients end up waiting longer.
Organ donors can save up to 75 people.
There are over 100,000 people on lists waiting for organ donations.
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