The Tragic Story Of This Police Officer Made a Stranger Give Him A Life-Saving Gift

Ryan Armistead had been a Missouri police officer for several years and had survived every dangerous encounter that he had faced in his whole career. He would not have thought that the greatest enemy he would face would come from the inside. A rare auto-immune disorder had caused irreversible damage to his kidneys, but then a stranger appeared and offered him a new lease of life.

#26. Busy Life

Before he fell ill, Armistead had had a busy life. Not only was he a full-time machine shop worker, but also worked part-time as a Missouri police officer.

Photo: Courtesy of KSDK News

In addition, he has a son called Gregory with his wife, Jessica. In 2015, his life changed drastically after a medical diagnosis, which saw him on dialysis six months later and on a kidney donor waiting list.

#25. Joseph Murray

Since the world’s first successful organ transplant in 1954 medical science has made a great advance. Back then, Richard Herrick’s life was ebbing away in Boston’s Peter Bent Brigham Hospital and he was in dire need of a kidney. Luckily, his identical twin Ronald donated his, in a move that saved his sibling’s life.

Photo: Courtesy of A Kidney For Ryan Schneider

The person who would be in charge of the procedure was Joseph Murray, who had earned a joint Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1990. He shared the award with physician Edward Donnall Thomas, who himself had made strides in the field of organ and cell transplantation.

#24. Living Donors

According to Organdonor.gov, these days transplants are far more common and an incredible 125 million organ donors have signed up. Sadly, both Murray and Thomas passed away in 2012, but not before leaving a legacy in the world of medicine. Transplant means that if the donor passes away, doctors can use their organs for life-saving – or life-changing – operations.

Photo: Courtesy of Transplant Living

Living donors can also help and are able to provide organs such as a kidney or some of their lung or liver to patients in need. However, few transplants are as simple as just finding a donor. That’s because doctors also have to identify organs that are medically compatible. Indeed, if they’re not, the expecting patient’s body can reject it.

#23. Immune System

Normally, a person’s immune system only fights dangerous substances in the body to protect it. But in the case of transplants, the system may detect antigen proteins that cover donated organs as a threat. When a person receives an organ from someone else during transplant surgery, that person’s immune system may recognize that it is foreign. This is because the person’s immune system detects that the antigens on the cells of the organ are different or not “matched.”

Photo: Courtesy of Sharon McCutcheon

Mismatched organs, or organs that are not matched closely enough, can trigger a blood transfusion reaction or transplant rejection. Thus, it rebels against the foreign object, causing a physical rejection. Additionally, according to Organdonor.gov, there were over 114,000 people waiting for a transplant in the U.S. in August 2017. And every ten minutes, the list increases by one person.

#22. Xenotransplantation

Taking into account these figures, researchers are exploring other methods of providing organs for patients in need. One potential solution is xenotransplantation, which involves using animal organs to replace human ones.

Photo: Courtesy of Rawpixel 

Indeed, this isn’t a new concept – doctors first performed such a transplant back in 1905, using pieces of rabbit kidney. Xenotransplantation, nonetheless, brings many questions for doctors. One of the facts is animal organs age quicker than a human’s, while biological compatibility is another.

#21. Artificial Organs

Lab-grown organs using stem cells are another potential solution, albeit a controversial one. Up until now, artificial organs have mostly been used as placeholders until doctors could perform a permanent transplant. Lab-grown organs are neither drugs nor medical devices, and the FDA is not set up to quickly or easily approve new technologies that don’t fit into current categories.

Photo: Courtesy of Ed Uthman

But with technological advances such as 3D printing, which could manufacture human organs, some specialists believe we’re getting closer to a time when science can create any replacement body parts we need. The primary purpose of printable organs is in transplantation. Research is currently being conducted on artificial heart, kidney, and liver structures, as well as other major organs.

#20. Organ Transplant List

Despite encouraging advancements in science, patients on the organ transplant list still face a long and uncertain wait. Once you are added to the national organ transplant waiting list, you may receive an organ fairly quickly or you may wait many years. In general, the average time frame for waiting can be 3-5 years at most centers and even longer in some geographical regions of the country.  You should ask your transplant center to get a better understanding of the wait times.

Photo: Courtesy of Sharon McCutcheon

And part-time policeman Ryan Armistead had first-hand experience with this when he fell ill in 2015. After experiencing recurring headaches, he visited the doctors only to receive some dreadful news. They informed him he had an illness known as IgA nephropathy.

#19. Berger’s Disease

Formerly known as Berger’s disease, IgA nephropathy comes from a natural antibody in the immune system. This common illness defense is called igA. But in some cases, the body creates an odd strain of it, and igA1 – a third kind of antibody – is released as a result.

Photo: Courtesy of Colter Olmstead

When igA1 reaches the kidneys, it makes them produce more proteins, reducing the organ’s effectiveness. And according to Fox News, Armistead’s doctors had some grave news for him. The doctors said to Ryan, “You need to go to a hospital, you’re at 13 percent kidney function”.

#18. Symptoms

In the early stages of IgA nephropathy, you may not notice any symptoms. You can have the disease for years, or even decades, without knowing it. The first sign of IgA nephropathy can appear when you have a cold, sore throat or other infection. When this happens, you may notice your urine is pink or brown, which is a sign that you have blood in your urine. Some people also have protein in their urine. If you have protein in your urine, you might notice that your urine looks foamy or bubbly and that your hands and feet are swollen.

Photo: Courtesy of Rawpixel

A health care provider might notice a problem before you do. A routine urine test at a regular check-up can show signs of IgA nephropathy. If you have tiny amounts of blood in your urine, you may not be able to see it, but it will show up in a urine test. If you have IgA nephropathy, the tiny clumps of blood in your urine will be shaped like tubes, because they form inside the kidneys’ tube-like filters called glomeruli.

#17. IgA Nephropathy

There is no cure for IgA nephropathy, but treatments can help to prevent more damage to your kidneys. If you have IgA nephropathy, you should have regular tests for kidney health. Your health care provider might tell you to take a type of medicine called an ACE inhibitor or ARB to control your blood pressure and prevent protein from being lost in your urine.

Photo: Courtesy of Romina Weermeijer

You might also need to change your diet and take medicine to lower your cholesterol. Your health care provider can refer you to a dietitian who can help you plan a diet that will work for you to help you lower your cholesterol.

#16. Glomeruli

IgA nephropathy affects the kidneys by attacking the glomeruli. The glomeruli are sets of looping blood vessels in nephrons—the tiny working units of the kidneys that filter wastes and remove extra fluid from the blood. The buildup of IgA deposits inflames and damages the glomeruli, causing the kidneys to leak blood and protein into the urine.

Photo: Courtesy of Rawpixel

The damage may lead to scarring of the nephrons that progresses slowly over many years. Eventually, IgA nephropathy can lead to end-stage kidney disease, sometimes called ESRD, which means the kidneys no longer work well enough to keep a person healthy. When a person’s kidneys fail, he or she needs a transplant or blood-filtering treatments called dialysis.

#15. Kidney Disease

IgA nephropathy can occur at any age, although the first evidence of kidney disease most frequently appears between people in their teens to late 30s. IgA nephropathy in the United States is twice as likely to appear in men than in women. While found in people all over the world, IgA nephropathy is more common among Asians and Caucasians.

Photo: Courtesy of Marcelo Leal

In its early stages, IgA nephropathy may have no symptoms; it can be silent for years or even decades. Once symptoms appear, the most common one is hematuria, or blood in the urine. Hematuria can be a sign of damaged glomeruli. Blood in the urine may appear during or soon after a cold, sore throat, or other respiratory infection.

#14. Albuminuria

Another symptom of IgA nephropathy is albuminuria—when a person’s urine contains an increased amount of albumin, a protein typically found in the blood, or large amounts of protein in the urine. Albumin is the main protein in the blood.

Photo: Courtesy of Courtesy of Ryan Armistead

When albumin leaks into the urine, the blood loses its capacity to absorb extra fluid from the body. Too much fluid in the body may cause edema, or swelling, usually in the legs, feet, or ankles and less often in the hands or face. Foamy urine is another sign of albuminuria. Some people with IgA nephropathy have both hematuria and albuminuria.

#13. Medication

Armistead then had to visit the hospital three times a week to drain fluid and artificially purge his body’s waste products. In addition, he posted a picture of the medication he needed to take on Facebook, revealing that the pile of boxes seen in the image would last him just a single month at most.

Photo: Courtesy of Anna Frodesiak

The dialysis and the medication were only a temporary solution for Armistead. What he really needed was a kidney transplant and it wasn’t likely to happen anytime soon. What was worse, Ryan’s physicians told him that he could be waiting for as long as seven years for an eligible organ donor.

#12. Hospital Visits

Nonetheless, when speaking to news site the Western Journal in February 2019, Armistead took it all in his stride and appeared positive. He said:

We just look at it as five to seven years of a bump in the road before we can go back to a normal life”.

Photo: Courtesy of A Kidney For Ryan Schneider

Meanwhile, Armistead continued carrying on his law enforcement work as best he could, but his condition continued to progress. Indeed, his illness advanced up to a point where Armistead’s visits to the hospital to get dialysis were impractical. He had to get a dialysis machine of his own.

#11. Dialysis Cost

According to The Western Journal, in addition to his medical costs, Armistead’s dialysis cost him roughly $30,000 a month. Armistead worried about how his condition affected his loved ones, telling the news site, “It’s hard on everybody because you have to revolve your life around this”. And things were especially confusing for his young son, Gregory.

Photo: Courtesy of Adhy Savala

Armistead added that his son, Gregory, knows that “his dad has to get his shots”. Understandably, things were difficult both financially and emotionally for the family. So much so that as time went on, they looked for alternate methods to support themselves and speed along the organ donation process.

#10. GoFundMe

That is how the Armistead’s decided to set up a GoFundMe page to try to raise money to pay the bills. The family also created a Facebook page to raise awareness of the ailing officer’s plight. In fact, they were so desperate to find a donor, Jessica even had a car magnet made featuring her husband’s details.

Photo: Courtesy of A Kidney For Ryan Schneider

The magnet read:

In need of a kidney for a dad, husband, son, uncle and friend. Ryan Armistead, Type O blood, please call Barnes Hospital at: 314-362-5365 to be tested to save a life!”

And as luck would have it, St. Charles County Missouri Scanner Traffic saw the magnet and shared it on Facebook.

#9. Jeff Vogan

Word spread from there, and before Armistead knew it, the media had picked up on the story and shared it on television. Then one day, it looked like the police officer’s patience had paid off. A man called Jeff Vogan came forward offering him a new kidney, and tests began to match Armistead to the organ.

Photo: Courtesy of A Kidney For Ryan Schneider

Sadly, Jeff Vogan’s kidneys were not a match for Ryan Armistead. In an interview with KSDK News in August 2018, Armistead said: “It’s definitely been an emotional roller coaster. It definitely [hurts]that, yeah, it didn’t happen. But then I look again and try to think about the positive, and I’m one step closer”.

#8. Abbie Dunkle

Another good soul then happened to see the post on Facebook, and therefore Armistead was closer than he had thought. Abbie Dunkle, a mother of two from Illinois, saw one of Ryan’s posts in the social media.  And it was just the opportunity that she’d been looking for, since the death of her close friend 19 years previously.

Photo: Courtesy of A Kidney For Ryan Schneider

Dunkle’s best friend had been a registered donor, and after she passed, her organs went to people who needed them. Ever since then, the Illinois-based mom has been searching for an opportunity to change someone’s life in a similar way. And when she saw Armistead’s desperate situation, she knew she had to help.n

#7. Stranger

Dunkle told Inside Edition in February 2019 that the fact that Ryan was a stranger did not really matter. Indeed, Armistead had no idea that she had been taking tests to see if they were a match. He only found out when doctors completed the process, and Dunkle contacted him personally on Facebook.

Photo: Courtesy of Neils Steeman

Dunkle’s Facebook message read, “Hi Ryan, my name is Abbie, and a few months ago your news story showed up on my Facebook feed. I started the process to see if I might be a match for you. I finished the process last week, and we are a match!”

#6. Surgery Date

Dunkle continued, “I was told today that your transplant coordinator should contact you next week to tell you. But I figured you may not want to wait that long to find out. If you’re not wanting to be in touch, I completely understand, and you don’t need to respond unless you’d like to”.

Photo: Courtesy of Rawpixel

Dunkle even had a provisional surgery date in hospital booked, ready and waiting for Armistead’s approval. But before the operation, the two decided to meet just before Christmas 2018, in order to get to know each other before the transplant. Dunkle went with her husband Steve to visit the Armistead family.

#5. Two Families

It was just to see my dialysis machine and what I had to go through,” Armistead told Inside Edition. “That’s when it hit home that this was a real deal”. The two families then spent the day talking and learning about each other’s lives.

Photo: Courtesy of A Kidney For Ryan Schneider

Dunkle continued “We all just kind of hit it off, he’s just like a regular guy. This could happen to anyone”. Then in January 2019, St. Louis’ Barnes-Jewish Hospital admitted her and Armistead for their life-changing transplant. But how did it turn out?

#4. Procedure

Armistead revealed to Good Morning America in February 2019 that he couldn’t believe it when he read the message. He recalled, “I literally fell to my knees and started crying. It had been such a long wait and when Abbie contacted me, she had already done everything 100 percent”.

Photo: Courtesy of A Kidney For Ryan Schneider

Thankfully, the procedure was a success and both patients recovered well. For Armistead, it’s a completely new lease of life after years of suffering on medication and dialysis. Inside Edition interviewed the cop just two weeks after the operation.

#3. Fatigue

“I’m great. I feel amazing,” Armistead said. He has an incision from the transplant. “It’s a little sore, but what do you expect?” Dunkle feels a little tired as her body adjusts to having one kidney, but she was told to expect that at first. “I’m feeling really good”, she said. “I’m doing well”.

Photo: Courtesy of A Kidney For Ryan Schneider

Aside from some expected fatigue after the procedure, Dunkle is likewise recovering. The donor added, “I’m feeling really good. It’s amazing to me that a piece of me is living in Ryan’s body”. Meanwhile, both families have kept in contact ever since, and speak on an almost daily basis.

#2. Medical Bills

Even though the procedure went well, Ryan’s still has some worries, and those are the medical bills he owes to the hospital. Even after health insurance, his family still owes an estimated $50,000 for his hospital treatment. Indeed, the recovering cop is hopeful his GoFundMe page will help cover some of the expense.

Photo: Courtesy of Nicole Honeywill

Nonetheless, after all, he has been through, Ryan is trying to see the bright side of things. He told Inside Edition, “We’ll just have to make payments as best we can, as they can’t come to repo my donated kidney”, he joked. Indeed, he’s just grateful that the operation was a success and he can look to the future.

#1. Life Saving

Armistead revealed on Good Morning America that Dunkle has gone above and beyond for saving my life and giving my wife and son the husband and father that they need and want to be around. He also told the show that “I know now that I’ll be able to see my son grow up, and that makes me completely happy”.

Photo: Courtesy of Richard Catabay

Armistead continued telling Good Morning America that “before that, I didn’t know how old he was going to be before it beat me down. It was scary to think of”. As for Dunkle, she sacrificed a kidney but gained so much more. “We like to say that we’re family now,” she said of the Armisteads. “I think every time I talk to him he thanks me again. He and his family are very thankful”.

  • About Author

    Luke H.

    Certified Translator recently graduated at the Universidad de Buenos Aires.
    Gamer. Bookworm.

    What we do in life echoes in eternity.

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