Beth Larsen and Scott Hopfinger have a few things in common. They are both Midwesterners, though she lives in Springfield, Missouri, and he lives in Belleville, Illinois. Both are baseball fans, though she roots for the St. Louis Cardinals and he the Chicago Cubs. And both recently had surgery: She underwent a kidney transplant, he recently had a kidney removed so he could donate it to someone who needed it more than he did. Beth and Scott also share a renewed sense of life and possibility. And that’s because Beth received Scott’s kidney. How does such a thing happen?
In 2017, Beth was 29 and a single mom. Frequent and painful kidney infections took her to a doctor’s office, where she was diagnosed with Goodpasture syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack and destroy its own tissue. In Beth’s case, her kidneys were the target—and they were failing quickly.
The first treatment Beth’s doctors tried didn’t work. Beth then had surgery to place a peritoneal dialysis tube in her body, but dialysis didn’t work either. When Beth found out her only hope was a kidney transplant, she felt real panic. Who would care for her son? Her name was placed on the waiting list – with thousands and thousands of other names. She was told that sometimes a living donor will offer to help. Also known as an altruistic donor, this person makes a gift of a healthy organ to someone like Beth. But, Beth says, “That didn’t make any sense to me. Who would do that?”
In a moment that now seems like perfect timing, Scott Hopfinger was killing time on the internet when he ran across a story that grabbed his attention. Two young children had posted a plea for a kidney donor to help their mom, who needed a transplant. Scott’s response was immediate: “I can do that.” He talked to his wife, his son, his parents. Then he made a few phone calls that ultimately connected him to the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Transplant Center. After careful screening, he was approved and had surgery to donate one of his kidneys.
Ultimately, he couldn’t help the mom and kids he’d read about online, but his kidney was no less desperately needed.
Beth was very sick and getting worse. She was miserable, she says, and losing hope. Then she got the phone call that changed everything. A kidney – Scott’s kidney – was available for her. Ten days after Beth married the man who is now her husband, she had her surgery. A transplant team took the kidney removed from Scott and stitched it into place in Beth.
Six months after surgery, Beth sent Scott a letter to thank him and to tell him about her life before and after transplant. Scott says that, though he had been eager to help someone, until Beth told him her story, he really didn’t know what life was like for someone with kidney disease. And he says he’s eager to talk about what he’s learned, hoping that others will make the same decision he did.
Beth and Scott agreed to meet on July 1, 2018, at Transplant Awareness Day at the Ballpark in St. Louis. Scott says he couldn’t wait to meet Beth. He wanted to thank her for the opportunity she’d given him: the chance to save a life. And Beth says her journey to health wouldn’t have happened without the selfless gifts – from plasma and blood to a new kidney – that Scott and others offered. “I’m living because of all those people who took time to donate.”
Today, Beth’s new kidney continues to function just as it should. “I have more time with my son,” she says. “I have more time and more energy.” Thanks to Scott and the transplant team, Beth is living her life, caring for her family, planning for more children in the future, pursuing an education. She feels good.