Kat Williams and Pat Gearity share a laugh together at The North Carolina Arboretum.
Kat Williams loved performing, volunteering, and spending time with her loved ones, but kidney failure was getting in her way. Dialysis kept her alive, but she was constantly tired and sick and didn’t want to depend on it to survive. Thanks to a life-saving donation from a fellow church member and kidney transplant surgery at Duke, Williams is back to the active life she yearned for and is grateful for a second chance.
Help from Friends
When Kat Williams was diagnosed with end-stage kidney disease at the age of 53, she knew a new kidney was the only way to restore her quality of life. She heard about living donation, but as a former foster child, she didn’t have any blood relatives and felt uncomfortable asking for help. Her friends took matters into their own hands by organizing a fundraiser near Kat’s home in Asheville, NC. To their delight, 600 people showed up, and 84 signed up to be her kidney donor.
"There's a huge need for living kidney donors. Kat and I are sharing our story to communicate that message and encourage people to donate."
A Ticking Clock
Pat Gearity had never spoken to Williams, but they attended the same church, and she was deeply moved by Williams’ story. “The more I thought about it, the more I realized I’ve got almost everything that would work for a kidney transplant,” she said. She wanted to be Williams’ donor, but at age 68 -- just two years shy of the cutoff age for donation -- she knew the clock was ticking. As a first step toward this goal, she lost over 20 pounds to be in the best health possible, for herself and Williams. Then, in the summer of 2018, she met with Lauren Fieldman, a living donor coordinator at Duke.
Watch Kat Williams and Pat Gearity talk about their transplant journey -- from kidney failure to life after a successful transplant -- with the hope of inspiring others to consider living organ donation.
Not Just Anyone Can Donate
Although there are more than 100,000 people in the U.S. on the national waitlist for a kidney, not everyone can be a donor, explained Fieldman. At Duke, potential donors undergo extensive testing, interviews, and education. “We had to determine if this was the best and safest option for Pat, not just now, but 20 years from now,” said Fieldman. After a two-day evaluation, which included everything from imaging tests to a psychosocial assessment, Gearity was given the stamp of approval. She immediately shared the news with Williams. “We were both whooping a lot,” she recalled.
Waking Up with a New Kidney
Five months later, Williams and Gearity made the drive from Asheville to Duke to undergo transplant surgery. First, Deepak Vikraman, MD removed one of Gearity’s kidneys. Then came Kat’s procedure, which was performed by Bradley Collins, MD. “He’s the best ever,” said Williams. “He knew I was a jazz singer, so during my surgery he played jazz. I fell right to sleep and woke up with a new kidney.” Gearity also fondly remembers her experience. “It was one of the most joyful moments in my life when I woke up and found out that Kat was going to be all right, and people were saying, ‘She's got your kidney.’” To date, Gearity is the oldest living kidney donor at Duke.
Back to Singing
Today, Williams is not only back to singing, she is also a sergeant at her local sheriff’s office and an active member of her church and wider community. “It’s all because I had someone willing to restart my life for me,” she said. “I feel like I've known Pat my whole life. We’re beyond friends. We're family.”