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When Caregiving Wasn’t Enough, Hartford Hospital Nurse Gave Gift of Life

July 17, 2019

When Heidi Janssen made the decision to become a nurse 24 years ago, it was her passion for making a difference in someone else’s life that fueled her career choice.

She treasures every moment with her patients, but always felt a yearning to do more. Her opportunity to do just that presented itself last January when she saw information on living organ donation flash across a digital screen outside the Hartford Hospital cafeteria.

She had found the “more” she was looking for.

Heidi called Hartford Hospital’s Transplant Center immediately.

“They give you options and make you feel comfortable,” she said. “Do you want your kidney to go to a specific person? From the very beginning, I just wanted it to go to whoever needed it the most.”

At Hartford Hospital, almost 300 people are on a waiting list for a kidney transplant. Every 10 minutes, another person is added to the national transplant waiting list. The average person waits four to seven years for a donated organ.

Esteban Hernandez, 43, waited three years before he got the call that a living donor was available to replace his kidney, destroyed by a rare illness called focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS).

When the call came he was shocked and happy, but didn’t want to get too excited. Earlier, his sister planned to give him a kidney, but she was not a match.

On March 20, one week after the match was made, Heidi and Esteban had their surgery. They met in the hospital the following day

“I met her, my family was there, the nurses were there. I am so blessed to have this second chance at life. I hugged her and thanked her,” he said.

Heidi was discharged from the hospital the next day. She was back to running by mid-April and returned to work on May 1. Full recovery takes about six weeks, although every patient is different.

Three months after surgery, Esteban says he’s doing well. “My doctor tells me everything is going great, my blood work is coming back good. I’m feeling good, no more pain and I have energy.”

Heidi says she had the full support of friends, family, and coworkers, although they always asked a lot of questions. Mostly they wanted to know: Why would you do this, especially for someone you didn’t even know?

“I work in the cancer center,” she said. “There are a lot of things you can’t change, a lot of people you can’t always help the way you want to. This was an easy way to make a difference for somebody. I felt fortunate to have the opportunity and the ability. It was perfect.”

Benefits of Living Donation


  • Reduces your time waiting for a lifesaving organ
  • Improves your recovery, as surgery can be scheduled when your health is optimal
  • Allows you to get the best match and a kidney that can potentially last longer
  • Shortens the wait time for a deceased organ for other people on the waiting list


  • Gives you the opportunity to save someone’s life, whether that’s someone you know or love, or someone you don’t know who will now have the chance to live longer with the people they love

Anyone interested in learning more about living donation and the process to become a living donor should call 833.222.7770 or click here.