LATEST UPDATE – SPECIAL REPORT, Jan. 6, 2003: Girl’s condition continues to improve after transplant, donor released from hospital

Five-year-old Angela Rushford will eat for the first time today after undergoing a kidney transplant last Friday, Jan. 3, while her organ donor, 38-year-old David Harper, is being released from the University of Wisconsin at Madison Medical Center.

“She’s doing great [and] they’re going to finally let her eat today,” said Tony Rushford, Angela’s father, who has gotten little sleep the past few days. “It’s just unbelievable; everything’s doing great.”

Angela was awake and coloring in her hospital room as a nurse took her blood pressure.

“You should look at her,” Patty Rushford, Angela’s mother, said. “She’s sitting up, she has no pain at all. I’m so happy.”

Angela had both of her kidneys removed to make room for Harper’s kidney.

Harper, of Mount Morris, became the donor after responding to a free classified ad placed by the Rushfords in The Rock River Times. Harper had never read the paper before the day he read the classified.

Angela suffered from polycystic renal failure, a hereditary disease in which cysts form in the kidneys, eventually leading to kidney failure. The only treatments for the disease are daily permanent dialysis or transplant.

Doctors have said such a transplant is a somewhat unusual operation, especially for someone as young as Angela.

Symptoms of polycystic renal failure include blood in urine, kidney stones, enlarged waistlines, pain in the back, abdomen or side, and high blood pressure.

Patty Rushford said Angela had suffered from high blood pressure and that Angela was taking a number of prescription medications in attempts to lower it. Her blood pressure Monday was 130 over 63, which doctors said is a little high under normal circumstances for someone her age but what is expected considering her operation. Her blood pressure was “perfect” when she first came out of surgery, Patty Rushford said.

Doctors expect Angela’s blood pressure to even out and return to normal as her body adjusts to the kidney, although they believe a higher blood pressure might be better at the moment so her body doesn’t go into shock.

“It’s not what it’s going to be when it’s all done because it’s so used to being in a man’s body,” Patty Rushford said. “Not even with medicine, it should do it by itself.”

For a time, the Rushfords feared Tony might also suffer from polycystic kidney disease as he has high blood pressure. But tests concluded that he does not have the disease.

“I was scared because I thought he had it too,” Patty Rushford said.

The Rushfords’ other two children–Justin, 6, and Tascha, 20 months–will be closely monitored for the disease, the Rushfords said.

Despite being a perfect match to his daughter’s type O positive blood, Tony was unable to give his kidney to Angela because of his high blood pressure.

Angela is expected to be in the hospital for another four to six days while she recovers. Her hospital telephone has been ringing off the hook with calls from well-wishers and members of the media all weekend. The Rushfords’ story has been featured on NBC’s Today show, the CBS Evening News, CBS International Radio News Network, and WGN, WBBM-AM radio and WMAQ-AM radio in Chicago.

A combination of the national attention and the nerves of having her daughter in surgery has left the Rushfords without sleep and physically and mentally drained.

“I’m so tired that I can’t think,” Patty Rushford said.

Despite their exhaustion, the Rushfords are considering starting a national foundation for organ donation. Details have yet to be determined, although Tony Rushford said he just wants to help open people’s eyes to the idea of organ donation.

A fund has been created in Angela’s name to help cover the mounting costs of her surgery and medication. Contributions can be sent to the following: Angela Rushford Fund, c/o National City Bank, 120 W. State St. #1, Rockford, IL 61101.


Brandon Reid, Assistant Editor

Tony Rushford had no idea that 80,000 U.S. patients were on a list for an organ donation or that 16 people die on average every day while waiting for a transplant when he checked the box on his driver’s license for organ donation.

Three days after his 5-year-old daughter, Angela, underwent a kidney transplant in attempts to correct a polycystic kidney disease–a hereditary disease that eventually leads to kidney failure–Rushford wants the rest of the world to have a better idea than he did about organ donation. He and his wife, Patty, announced on NBC’s Today show earlier today that they plan to start a foundation to help other patients in need of an organ transplant.

“We just kind of really want to open people’s minds to the whole idea of organ donation,” Tony Rushford said, in an interview from Angela’s bedside at the University of Wisconsin at Madison Medical Center. “I didn’t really know the whole need before. People are dying when they shouldn’t be. There are so many organs out there and so many people who are dying and not donating their organs.”

Angela Rushford had been on a cadaver from donor list for about six months before her parents placed a free classified ad in The Rock River Times seeking a kidney donor. David Harper, 38, of Mount Morris, who had never seen The Rock River Times before, responded to the ad and became the eventual donor after tests revealed he was a close enough match to Angela’s type O positive blood.

The Rushfords’ story has gained much national and international media attention, being featured on NBC’s Today show, the CBS Evening News, CBS International Radio News Network, the Associated Press, various publications and WGN, WBBM-AM radio and WMAQ-AM radio in Chicago. Reports suggest that Angela’s story has already motivated thousands to become organ donors.


By Brandon Reid, Assistant Editor

Both Angela Rushford, 5, and David Harper, 38, are reported in good condition at the University of Wisconsin at Madison Medical Center after undergoing a kidney transplant earlier today.

The procedure began at 9:15 a.m. this morning, and Angela and David were reported to be out of surgery around 1 p.m., said hospital spokesman Janet Cooper.

Cooper said there were no complications and that as of 3 p.m., Harper was awake and alert while Rushford was still sedated. Both Angela and David will remain under close observation for the next few days, Cooper said.

Cooper said her office has been overwhelmed by requests for updates on the transplant and requests for interviews from many national media outlets, including CNN and the major television networks.

The Rushfords and David Harper appeared on NBC’s Today show earlier today, and the transplant has been discussed on WMAQ-AM, WBBM-AM and WNTA-AM radio stations.

Angela Rushford of Rockford was diagnosed with polycystic renal failure—a progressive hereditary disease in which cysts form in the kidneys leading to kidney failure—nearly a year and a half ago. She had been on the cadaver from donor list for six months before her mother, Patty Rushford, placed a free classified ad in The Rock River Times seeking a kidney donor.

The classified ad read: “4 YR. OLD GIRL in desperate need of kidney transplant. Seeking donor w/O Pos. blood. Will compensate for loss of income.” Angela Rushford turned 5 Dec. 12.

Harper, who lives in Mount Morris and who had never read The Rock River Times before, picked up the paper at a Mobil gas station in Mount Morris and ran across the ad. He has type O positive blood and decided to call the Rushfords that evening. Tests revealed that Harper’s blood was a close enough match to Angela Rushford’s—three out of six andogens were a match. After meeting with the Rushfords, Harper determined he had no choice but to offer his kidney.

“They were reaching at straws because they had been on a list so long,” Harper said in an interview the day before the surgery. “And it’s really a godsend.”

Jennifer Bowman, public relations manager at the Northern Illinois Blood Bank in Rockford and committee co-chairman of Life Goes On, said type O positive blood is the most common blood type in the United States; 38 percent of Americans have type O blood.

Bowman said thousands of people with O positive blood have trouble finding appropriate donors.

“From what I’ve heard, is that they were a miraculous match considering they were not related,” Bowman said.

Bowman said it takes two to 10 units of blood to complete a kidney transplant, which is the equivalent of two to 10 blood donors.

Angela’s parents have been struggling to cover the costs of Angela’s medical care, which now total more than $600,000. Social Security is picking up part of the cost, but the remaining cost will leave the Rushfords financially decimated.

“We’re not doing too well financially right now,” Patty Rushford said.

Tony Rushford, Angela’s father, has been restricted to working out of the home for the past year and a half because he wanted to stay close to his daughter.

A contribution fund has been created in Angela’s name. Contributions can be sent to the following: Angela Rushford Fund, c/o National City Bank, 120 W. State St. #1, Rockford, IL 61101.


SPECIAL REPORT: PART ONE – JAN. 2,2003 – Our free classified ad pays off for young girl and family

By Brandon Reid, Assistant Editor

About 17 hours before she’s scheduled to undergo a kidney transplant in attempts to correct a polycystic renal failure, 5-year-old Angela Rushford of Rockford sits in her hospital bed watching Max Keebler’s Big Move with her parents at her side.

Not far away in another University of Wisconsin at Madison Medical Center room, 38-year-old David Harper and his wife, Shelah, both of Mount Morris, prepare to give what they say is the most important Christmas present they have ever given—one of David’s kidneys.

“This is what Christmas is all about,” David Harper said. “It’s about what you can give, not what you can get.”

David Harper is giving his kidney to Angela Rushford about a year and a half after she was diagnosed with the kidney disease that doctors say is extremely rare in children. According to the Indian Continence Foundation Web site, polycystic kidney failure is a progressive hereditary disease in which cysts form in the kidneys, which eventually end in kidney failure. The disease cannot be treated and the only options are to undergo regular dialysis or receive a transplant. Polycystic kidney disease patients may have blood in urine, high blood pressure, kidney stones, enlarged waistlines and experience pain in the back, abdomen or side.

The transplant is scheduled to begin at 7 a.m. tomorrow and will last three to six hours.

“God bless Dave … he’s like my hero,” said Tony Rushford, Angela’s father.

The Rushford’s said finding a match to Angela’s Type O positive blood was a one-in-a-million chance. The way they found a match was more like a one-in-a-billion chance, a way that has landed them in the national media spotlight with an appearance on NBC’s Today Show and discussion on Chicago’s WBBM-AM radio.

The news outlets garnered the story from an Associated Press posting. The story was originally written by David Holsted, staff writer for Sauk Valley Newspapers, Sterling, Ill. Holsted said a friend of Harper’s, Vinnie Miranda, called in the story. Subsequently, the story was sent to the AP wire service.

Despite the sudden national attention, Angela had been on the cadaver donor list for six months to no avail. With kidney dialysis seemingly imminent, Angela’s parents were becoming desperate. Her mother, Patty, who had been posting free classified ads in The Rock River Times in attempts to sell various items to earn money to pay for the growing costs of Angela’s medical bills, decided to place an ad for a kidney.

“I had mentioned it, and we had thought about it but never did it,” said Patty Rushford, who placed the classified ad Sept. 4, 2002. “There was nothing to lose by doing that.”

So, in the “Personal” section of the classified ads among pleas of “LOOKING FOR WIFE,” and “WIFE WANTED,” was the parents’ plea for help. The ad read: “4 YR. OLD GIRL in desperate need of kidney transplant. Seeking donor w/O Pos. blood. Will compensate for loss of income.”

A few days after the ad first ran, David and Shelah Harper made a quick stop at the Mobil station in Mount Morris. They picked up the various free publications available at the station, including The Rock River Times, which they had never seen before. That evening, David and Shelah sat down and began leafing through The Rock River Times.

“It was the first time I’d ever saw [the paper],” David Harper said. “We normally always pick up the little free papers that were lying around and I said, ‘Well, here’s a new one.’ So I grabbed it. We just started in the front and wound up in the back.”

David began reading through the news stories and commentary, while Sheilah scanned the Classifieds. Shelah read the Rushford’s ad and handed it to David. “He’s the kind who likes to think about things for a while,” Shelah Harper said. She approached David later that evening and asked him for his thoughts.

“We saw the ad, and I thought to myself, well, maybe I’ll call,” David Harper said.

David called the Rushfords that evening. Tony Rushford answered the phone and began crying. He handed the phone to his wife.

“She [Shelah] sounded very appreciative that we had even called,” David Harper said. “She and her husband I guess started crying from shock.”

The Rushford’s said David Harper was the third person who responded to the ad. The first wanted money and the second wasn’t a close enough match. The Rushford’s ad received about 50 responses altogether over a nine-week run.

Free classified ads usually run for three weeks. Classified Sales Manager Marieke McClendon said, “After three weeks I called to see if she wanted to run the ad again. I usually don’t call free ads back; but since it was her daughter, I called her.” Ultimately, McClendon decided to run the ad another six weeks.

Patty Rushford said about the response her ad received: “I couldn’t believe it. I was very surprised. I was like, amazed. I’m still freaking out like it’s not real.

“He’s the best guy … it’s too bad there aren’t more like him,” Patty said about David Harper.

David Harper, who has been out of work since he injured himself on the job as a welder in 2000, said he wants to make clear that he is receiving absolutely no compensation for his donation.

“The whole point … is that if I can convince one person that donating an organ is a good thing, then it was all worth it,” David Harper said.

David Harper, who has two children of his own—David, 15, and Kyle, 13—said the decision of whether to donate his kidney was an easy one.

“It wasn’t a hard decision,” David Harper said. “I read the ad that said a child was in trouble, and I reached out to help.

“A lot of people ask me, ‘What if it were your own kids?’” David Harper said. “But you can’t base your decision on ‘what-if.’ If Angela ends up dying because I didn’t do this for her, how am I supposed to live with that?”

He added, “Maybe this was predestined. Maybe it was God’s work that this came about. But I’m not the hero. I think Angela’s the hero. She’s 5 years old and she’s been through hell and back. I’m just one guy trying to help somebody and to maybe get the message out to somebody else to do the same.”

Editor & Publisher Frank Schier also contributed to this story.


Angela Rushford Fund

c/o National City Bank

120 W. State Street #1

Rockford, IL 61101

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