Kidney transplant recipient reunites with church member donor in New York

VALHALLA, Westchester County (WABC) -- A woman who received a kidney transplant reunited with the woman who saved her life, a fellow member of her church, for the first time Wednesday.

Annakay Dennis, 24, received the life-saving surgery five days ago at Westchester Medical Center. The gift of life came courtesy Jennifer Buda, 35, who watched Dennis struggle with her condition at their Kingston church.

As a pre-teen, Dennis was diagnosed with lupus, a condition that led to kidney failure and two years on dialysis as she waited for an organ donation.

Dennis was a member of Buda's youth group at the Abundant Life Tabernacle Church, and Buda offered to be a donor after discovering they were each other's "miracle match." They've known each other through the church for about six years.

"She's just an amazing person," Dennis said. "She's like a sister, an older sister to me now."

The transplant procedure was a success, and both are doing well after discharge. Buda is a nurse who has worked with veterans, while Dennis attends culinary school and hopes freedom from dialysis means she can one day open her own restaurant.

"I'm really thrilled that it's been successful so far," Buda said. "It's working great for her, and I'm happy, no regrets whatsoever."

The pair reunited for the first time since leaving the hospital, and both fared well in their first post-op checkup Wednesday.

"I look at her and think, 'Why not her?'" Buda said. "I would do it for my sisters or brother. Why not her?"

Health experts say living donor transplants involving non-related parties are uncommon, and Dennis and Buda were joined by members of the Transplant Center at Westchester Medical Center.

Of the 75 living donor kidney transplants Westchester Medical Center has done over the past five years, this is only the third non-related donor.

New York state has one of the lowest rates of organ donation in the United States, and officials are hoping stories like this one will prompt others to sign up to be potential donors.

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