An Alaska Airlines flight attendant says she’s looking forward to “a smooth ride through sunny skies” after a lifetime of illness, which culminated in the gift of a life-saving kidney from an unusual source: One of the airline’s pilots.
Jenny Stansel, 38, received the kidney on March 13 from Jodi Harskamp, 41, an Alaska Airlines captain who volunteered last year to undergo testing and learned that she was a perfect match for her coworker, who had taken a medical leave from her job to go on dialysis for 10 hours a day.
The three-hour transplant was a success, with both women now recovering in stable condition at Seattle’s Swedish Medical Center, says Dr. Andrew Precht, director of the hospital’s liver and pancreas transplant program.
“We could not be more pleased with the initial outcomes from both Jodi and Jenny’s surgeries,” Precht tells PEOPLE. “Everything went as planned, and as soon as the surgical connections were made, the donor kidney immediately started working. Jodi gave Jenny a new lease on life with a beautiful, healthy kidney.”
A few days before the transplant, Stansel and Harskamp, both of Anchorage, told PEOPLE that they hoped sharing their story would inspire others to sign up as living donors during March’s National Kidney Month, or register to become donors when they die.
“You can’t take your organs with you when you die, and if you sign up as a living donor, you’ll have the reward of watching someone live a happy, fruitful life,” says Harskamp, a married mother of two who has flown for Alaska Airlines for 11 years. “When I learned that Jenny needed help, I was surprised because when we’ve worked together, she always seemed so outgoing and energetic. I had no idea that she was so sick. When I heard that she needed a donor, I thought, ‘Why not? I’ll get tested.’ “
Stansel, who has three children and is engaged to be married, was stunned to learn that Harskamp was a perfect match.
“I would have taken a kidney from anybody, but to get one from Jodi is just incredible,” she tells PEOPLE. “From the very beginning, even before she knew she was a match, she kept telling me, ‘I got your kidney, girl.’ To have it all work out the way it did is really quite the miracle.”
Stansel found out that she had kidney disease brought on by lupus 15 years ago, and ended up in the hospital with kidney failure in March 2016.
“The doctor told me that if I hadn’t come in, I’d have lived no more than three days,” she says. “After that hospital stay, I couldn’t go anywhere without hauling all of my dialysis equipment. A kidney transplant became my last hope.”
After she went on medical leave, Stansel put out a company-wide email, telling airline employees that she needed a new kidney, preferably O positive.
“When I saw it, I thought, ‘That’s me — I’m going to be her donor,’ ” says Harskamp, who even told the other two finalists, “I’ve got this — I’m her match.”
“It’s such a fulfilling thing to help another human being,” she says. “The reward to me was far greater than the risk.”
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After both women recover from their surgeries, they’ll take time off to recover before working again at 36,000 feet. For her first flight, though, Harskamp plans to be a passenger, instead of running things in the cockpit.
“Alaska is pretty cold and dark right now,” she tells PEOPLE, “so I’m thinking of going somewhere else to recover. Hawaii is pretty nice this time of year.”