Sharon O’Grady, a special education nurse with Cobb County Schools for more than 10 years, is dedicated to saving young lives.
O’Grady’s youngest son, Brent, was born with spina bifida 22 years ago and was diagnosed at four months old with Stage 4 Bilateral Wilms Tumors, a type of malignant kidney cancer. He lost one kidney and part of the other.
O’Grady, who had a degree in industrial psychology, decided to become a special education nurse after Brent enrolled in Cobb County special needs pre-k at age three.
“It took me eight years to get to be a special education nurse because there are only 14 positions, and nobody leaves until they retire,” she said.
In her “dream job,” she has a caseload of 50 to 60 students a year. Many of them have a medical diagnosis – seizures, diabetes, anaphylaxis allergies, and some rare and even severe medical conditions. Some also need medical procedures performed during the school day, including urinary catheterizations, tube feedings and colostomy bag changes.
“To me there is nothing more rewarding than to reassure a worried mom that her child’s medical needs will be safely handled at school,” O’Grady said. “I was once in her shoes.”
Last May, O’Grady learned that a co-worker had a student in chronic kidney failure and on the transplant list. Responding to his mother’s pleas for help, O’Grady learned she had the same blood type as the boy. She filled in the donor transplant form, only to find out he couldn’t take her kidney.
She opted to enter a paired kidney exchange, or “kidney swap,” instead. This means that two live donor transplants happen. The boy received his kidney from a stranger, and his father donated to a stranger. Three weeks later, she received an email.
Would she be up to donating a kidney? “I wrote in the subject line: ‘YES to donation’,” she said.
On Dec. 4, a stranger received a kidney from O’Grady.
“She may never know who she saved, but she is happy just knowing that someone else now has chance at a good life,” husband Mark said.
O’Grady doesn’t really like talking about the kidney donation, but she does so in hopes that someone will consider following the slogan on her T-shirt: “Share your spare.”