A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Maine husband’s long shot play on Kentucky Oaks Day pays off with kidney donation for his wife

By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune managing editor

Shaun McCarthy was running out of options, and time.

Stacey McCarthy, Shaun’s wife, was on dialysis and in desperate need of a kidney transplant. Efforts to find a compatible donor in or around his Portland, Maine home were unsuccessful.

Shaun McCarthy on Kentucky Oaks Day, with his “MY WIFE NEEDS A KIDNEY,” sport coat (photo by Mark Hansel).

There were several people who attempted to be a donor but it’s a very rigorous program, and in the spring of this year, with time running short, they still hadn’t found a match.

McCarthy is a horse racing fan and as the Kentucky Derby approached, he recognized that the sport’s biggest stage provided a rare opportunity to reach out to a large audience in one location.

McCarthy headed to Louisville decked out in a white sport coat with the words, “MY WIFE NEEDS A KIDNEY, BLOOD TYPE O,” and her contact information on the back.

That’s were he crossed paths with a Northern Kentucky Tribune reporter on Kentucky Oaks Day and with hundreds of others, who subsequently posted or relayed the information in stories and through social media outlets.

“All we need is someone that has type O and it doesn’t matter if it’s negative or positive,” McCarthy said then. “There is a website people can go to for preliminary testing to find out if someone is a match.”

McCarthy knew it was a longshot, but as someone who enjoys a good horse race, he also realized long odds bring a larger reward.
The McCarthys cashed in on Shaun’s hunch when texts started pouring in to Stacey’s cell phone almost immediately.

“The next day, the day of the Kentucky Derby, I had to physically sit in my house because my phone was just dinging off the rocks,” Stacey McCarthy said. “I just started writing because I didn’t have names, I just had numbers because it was texts.

By the end of the day, there were 103 texters that had asked for information.

“I couldn’t go out of the house because the texts were just coming in so frequently and I felt compelled to answer every one,” she said.

Even with that kind of response, there are no guarantees, because a potential donor has to be a match for a transplant to be considered.

Stacey McCarthy is recovering well from her third kidney transplant and wants to thank everyone who reached out to her (provided photo).

The good fortune that began with an outpouring of support on Kentucky Oaks Day continued, however, and a matching donor was located. On October 30, Stacey McCarthy had a kidney transplant from a donor organ that was flown out of Cincinnati.

“It came from your neck of the woods and we have no idea if they saw the (Tribune) story or if it is just a coincidence, but we wanted to thank you for spreading the word,” Shaun McCarthy said. “At this point we would just like to thank everyone for sharing our story and hope that it helps others.”

Stacey McCarthy said she still feels a little tired but is recovering well.

“I feel like I had major surgery two weeks ago, but I’m coming around,” she said. “Everything, the numbers and the kidney is operating and the doctors are very happy with everything so far.”

Stacey McCarthy was not surprised that Shaun went to such great lengths in search of a donor.

“My husband has always done things, well not like that, that’s very out of the box, but that’s the kind of person he is,” she said. “He’s very quiet but he’s always thinking he had seen something like that by someone else that had done that at a major gathering, so he thought, what the (heck).”

Shaun McCarthy posted something on Facebook in February that really started the donation process, which was part of a nine-person chain, in motion.

“That’s how I had someone here in Portland donate to somebody else – it was part of the chain,” stacey McCarthy said. “Her donation was altruistic and went to somebody that she doesn’t know and I don’t know in Wisconsin and because of that I was placed on the larger list and had the opportunity to get this kidney, so I kind of feel like she was my donor too. Had she not done that, I wouldn’t have been in a position to get this kidney.”

Remarkably this is the third kidney transplant for Stacey McCarthy, who is 58 years old.

“I had my first one when I was 16 and that was from my mother and lasted 26 years,” she said. “My second one was 18 years ago that lasted 13 or 14 years and this is my third and we hope this one will last for the remainder of my days. There’s no reason it can’t, the medicines have gotten so much better and with the health issues that might come into contact with, they are able to prolong things so much better than they were then.”

The McCarthys are sharing their story in the hopes others will consider becoming a living donor.

“Every opportunity we get to speak to someone, we are trying to advocate because there are just so many people that could be helped if everybody knew,” Stacey McCarthy said. “It’s not an easy surgery for the donor by any means, you have a couple of days where you are really hurting but you really can save someone’s life.”

For more information on becoming a living donor, click here.

They also hope the donor reads about the successful donations and reaches out, so they can meet them in person and thank them.

Since they are probably from that part of the country, it would be great if we could meet up with them at the Kentucky Oaks or the Derby next year and thank them in person,” Shaun McCarthy said.

Stacey McCarthy said enduring three kidney transplants is “just part of life” for her.

“There are people all over the world that have had to put up with a whole lot more than I do,” she said. “I don’t want people to believe that I’ve had a tough life. I’ve had a couple of stumbles, but there are people a whole lot worse off than I am and I know that.”

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com

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