CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A Charleston woman has donated a kidney to a stranger to honor the memory of a friend.
Jo Burka left Charleston Monday with her twin sister, Pat Burka Martin, to drive to Pittsburgh where the surgery was performed early Tuesday. Martin, who now lives in Florida, flew home to accompany her sister to Allegheny General.
Burka is donating a kidney to a woman in Maryland through a donor match program in memory of Dawn Gallo, who died last December at age 50.
Burka had wanted to give Gallo a kidney but was not a match.
During a Monday telephone interview while en route to the hospital, Burka said that Gallo had been on a transplant list but was taken off because of heart problems.
"Dawn had lupus and got sick on a senior high school trip to the beach." Burka said. "She had been on dialysis 26 years. Lupus goes after the major organs. Twenty years ago her mom donated a kidney but it was rejected.
"Dawn passed away in December," Burka said. "Her heart was so taxed from dialysis. She went peacefully the week before Christmas. It still shocked everyone."
Burka said her kidney will go to a woman in Maryland and that is all she knows. She added it will be up to the recipient whether she wishes to meet the donor one day.
Burka, 51, has worked for 28 years at Xerox where she is a solutions specialist. She is divorced and has no children.
Her sister is married with two grown sons. She also intends to be a donor with the testing process to begin in August in Tampa.
"She reached out in February and they make you wait six months to go into the kidney exchange program to look for a match," Burka said.
Jo and Pat Burka and Dawn Gallo had been friends since junior high and remained close throughout the years. While reviewing some journal notes, Jo realized her surgery was scheduled four years to the day that she had talked to Dawn about giving her a kidney. She said her friend did not want her "to go through that." She said giving a kidney now to someone in need is a "bittersweet" experience. While she misses her friend, life can be passed forward through her memory.