Construction Mechanic 3rd Class Leah Rapp, right, donated one of her kidneys to her best friend, Susan Stout. (Courtesy of CM3 Leah Rapp)
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What you should know about the Navy’s rules on organ donation.
The old-fashioned way: To make sure you’re in line to donate an organ after death, fill out DD 2731 — a Defense Department Organ and Tissue Donor Card — or make sure your wishes are in your living will and/or on your driver’s license. If you haven’t taken any of these steps, the decision to donate will be left up to your next of kin.
Living donors: As Construction Mechanic 3rd Class Leah Rapp found out, this path can be complicated, as outlined in Bureau of Medicine Instruction 6300.8A — an instruction that covers active-duty sailors, but Rapp said mirrored her experiences as a reservist.
There are three counseling requirements, per the instruction: To give the sailor information about the donation and the surgery; to tell the sailor he won’t qualify for special duty assignment or disability after the surgery; and to sort out what expenses the Navy will cover. The counseling also serves to make the sailor aware that "continued service will be contingent upon favorable medical evaluation results following organ donation."
Donor exams: After a living donor undergoes counseling, he must be examined by a member of the Medical Corps to determine physical fitness for surgery. Tests to determine compatibility between donor and recipient must be completed before the sailor submits paperwork to BUMED.
After the operation: If the surgery is performed in a civilian hospital, the donor will be transferred to a Tricare Military Treatment Facility to be evaluated for continued military service. If the organ goes to a DoD beneficiary, Tricare will pay the bills of both the donor and the recipient. Otherwise, the Navy is not responsible for any costs for a transplant performed in a civilian hospital.
One Seabee took the Navy's recruiting slogan to heart, becoming a one-woman "force for good" by donating a kidney to her best friend.
Construction Mechanic 3rd Class Leah Rapp, a reservist based in Detroit, donated the kidney in late December to Susan Stout, whose quality of life was suffering.
"She's only 28, but she couldn't work. She got tired really easily. She was pretty much living without really having a life outside her home," Rapp said.
"With this new kidney she'll be able to live like a normal person lives. She'll still have health problems due to her diabetes, but by doing what I did, I was able to give her a new extension on her life."
Stout suffered kidney failure due to complications from Type 1 diabetes and had been undergoing dialysis for about a year and a half, Rapp said. Without a donation, her friend would've needed daily dialysis for the rest of her life.
When none of Stout's three older sisters could donate because of health concerns, Rapp got tested to see if she was a match.
"We're the same blood type … and we've been best friends since we were 15. We were even born on the same day," Rapp said. "After I found out I was in perfect health and could donate a kidney without any major risks, I just felt like I should."
To donate an organ, Rapp had to coordinate with the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. It took several weeks for her to collect the necessary paperwork and blood tests.
Throughout that process, the leadership at Amphibious Construction Battalion 2, Detachment 113, encouraged Rapp to help her friend.
"My commander, he was very supportive when he found out what I was doing; he helped us get the paperwork to BUMED, the same with the [executive officer]," she said. "They seemed to think what I was doing was a very good thing."
BUMED gives final approval for sailors to donate organs, with special attention paid to whether the sailor will be healthy enough after the surgery to continue Navy service. After submitting the paperwork, Rapp got her approval in less than a week and had the surgery Dec. 19 at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.
Both women are recovering well, Rapp said, adding her kidney function is the same as someone with two kidneys.