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The Catalyst

Patients celebrate success with bell, Tree of Life

By Cindy Abole
Public Relations

There’s no mistaking the clanging of a ship’s bell echoing down the halls of MUSC’s transplant unit on 6 East.

The bell has tolled at least 30 times in the past year to recognize the success of the program’s kidney and liver transplant patients. And as recipients, donors and their families depart, they can remember this part of their transplant journey by leaving behind a token on the unit’s Tree of Life display.

Transplant nurse Elieonora Smit straightens 6 East’s Tree of Life piece. The artwork supports living transplant donors.
Transplant nurse Elieonora Smit straightens 6 East’s Tree of Life piece. The artwork supports living transplant donors.

Last summer, the bell rang to commemorate the miracle shared by Lowcountry kidney transplant patient Dean Quade and his altruistic living donor and friend, Tracy Peabody.

Peabody didn’t need to think twice when it came to helping out her friends during their time of need.

After all, she and Dean’s wife, Stacey, were childhood friends in Waldorf, Md. Stacey later married Dean and moved to Summerville to raise their three children. Peabody learned that Dean’s quality of life was deteriorating after being diagnosed in 2005 with IgA nephropathy, a disease that severely damaged his kidneys. Dean was on dialysis for about three months. On April 27, Stacey called her best friend crying. She had originally started the process to be a potential living donor to her husband, but was turned down due to medical reasons. That's when Peabody decided to place her name on the donor list.

After completing the pre-testing and months of waiting, Peabody received news that she was a positive match for Dean. By late June 2012, the friends worked it out to schedule a surgery date originally set for mid-July. Prior to leaving for Charleston, she received news from her doctor about a suspicious lump in her right breast. MUSC’s transplant team advised her to remove it to rule out cancer.

On July 18, the original day set for Dean’s transplant surgery, Peabody underwent surgery to remove the lump from her breast, which was later confirmed negative. Once that was done, they set a new transplant surgery date for Aug. 15. She didn’t fully realize the scope of her donation until she awoke later that day in recovery and asked about Dean’s progress. The nurses pointed to where Dean rested across the room, and they both waved to each other.

Celebrating the gift of life is living donor Tracy Peabody and transplant patient and friend Dean Quade of Summerville.
Celebrating the gift of life is living donor Tracy Peabody and transplant patient and friend Dean Quade of Summerville.

“That was a moment I will never forget,” Peabody said.

For years, it’s been a tradition for MUSC kidney and liver transplant patients to ring the bell once they’ve recovered from their surgery or prior to discharge. At some time, both donor and recipient are invited to write their names and transplant dates on a symbolic leaf and place it on one of many branches of a framed Southern life oakk tree image. The Tree of Life project was the brainchild of 6 East nurse Elieonora Smit who was trying to complete a transplant nurse RN3 advancement project.

“We wanted to do something to give our living transplant donors some recognition and make them feel special while honoring them as the heroes that they really are. Charleston’s Angel Oak, a symbol of Charleston, was the perfect inspiration. I liked its reference to angels as that’s what these donors represent: true angels to others,” Smit said.

Donors also receive a certificate of appreciation, a cake and goody bag filled with a T-shirt, cup, pin and commemorative photo of the patient and donor. 

“At the moment we rang the bell together, it didn’t make me feel any different or special. My moment came after I woke up after surgery and knew that Dean was OK that I fully realized what I had done. There is nothing more self-satisfying than improving another person’s quality of life,” Peabody said.

Interim nurse manager Debra Cassidy, R.N., confirmed that both the transplant bell and Tree of Life projects provide a positive affirmation of her team’s roles in the transplant process.

“The project has given our staff an opportunity to acknowledge the living transplant donor in a consistent way, which donors always appreciate. It also encourages post-operative mobility for both patient and donor as they both have a goal of meeting at the bell. Although satisfaction is hard to measure, when rounding on patients, there is a definite improvement,” said Cassidy.

Peabody now sports a small tattoo – a butterfly bearing a green ribbon and the transplant surgery date — on her left wrist, the same side her kidney was removed. It is the 43-year-old wife and mother of two teenagers’ daily reminder of her sacrifice and chance to save a person’s life.

“The tattoo makes me very proud to explain to people what I have done. I think I’ve educated many people, and maybe some will be more willing to help others in the same way whenever their time comes,” she said.

Peabody stays in contact with her Lowcountry friends and regularly receives cards of appreciation from Stacey reminding her how much Dean and the family appreciate her gift.

“I don’t really ever think about it,” she said. “And I would do it again if I could.”
Smit, who is hoping to present the Tree of Life Living Donor project at September’s International Transplant Nurses Society Symposium in Washington D.C., summarizes it best.

“It’s a wonderful and positive thing that we have such a program in place and that it has evolved to what it is today. It provides a wonderful, positive effort that our unit can be involved with and supports the specialized care our patients need every day,” said Smit.

For information about transplant services, call 792-1414 or visit

July 19, 2013

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