Gift of life: Stranger donates kidney to NYPD officer from Brooklyn

NYPD Officer Vadrien Alston
Vadrien Alston outside Transit District 30.
Photo by Dean Moses

Members of New York’s Finest are duty-bound to save the lives of complete strangers. This time, a complete stranger is saving the life of one good cop.

Vadrien Alston grew up to serve her home borough of Brooklyn as a police officer for Transit District 30. But a sudden organ failure put not only her career, but also her life, at terrible risk.

Alston’s kidney began to fail in 2021. It was her second bout with the perilous condition; in 2009, her original kidney gave up, leaving her to undergo a transplant in May 2010. Now, she spends her days continuing to work as a police officer and eight hours nightly undergoing dialysis.

“Definitely, I can say it is traumatizing because when you actually first have that first organ transplant, you’re thinking that this is gonna last forever and that you will never go through this again. But unfortunately, that’s not the case,” Alston said, explaining to amNewYork Metro how she manages her illnesses while also working full time. “I have some days that are better than others, but for the most part, I’m very fortunate to have a supervisor who allows me to stay inside as opposed to going out on patrol.”

As fate would have it, a complete stranger came across Alston’s plight and chose to act. Sophia Jackson, a New York native, traveled to Maryland from Utah for work in December 2021 and while in her hotel room saw a news broadcast that showcased the NYPD officer’s need for a donor. 

Sophia Jackson. Courtesy of Sophia Jackson

“I’ve known my whole life that you can live a pretty normal life with just one kidney, and I thought well when I get back to Utah, I will look into it,” Jackson said. “I’m still trying to narrow out when exactly it was that it just clicked but I knew that her story meant a lot. I don’t know if it’s just because I’m from New York and she’s a police officer and they do so much that you know, maybe it is time for someone else to help, but her story just touched my heart and I just wanted to step forward to help her.”

Despite Jackson’s good will, she discovered that her kidney was not a match for Alston, still hope was not lost. The National Kidney Registry operates a unique voucher program that allows an individual to donate an organ and even though they may not be a match for the intended party, once donated, a voucher is issued allowing another person to receive a kidney. Jackson took advantage of this, donating one of her kidneys to the registry so that Alston could receive a voucher.

“It’s a total game changer. Garet Hill created the National Kidney Registry because his daughter was in need of a kidney at age 11 and he couldn’t deal with the fact that he couldn’t donate directly to her. He’s like, this doesn’t make any sense. Like we got to fix the problem. And that’s why he created the National Kidney registry,” explained Michael Lollo, Chief Operating Officer of the National Kidney Registry.

Lollo is no stranger to the program either. A former NYPD detective himself, in 2018, he donated a kidney to the program in order to save the life of a Pennsylvania woman whose husband, an Army veteran, also donated to the program so his wife could receive the blessing.

Vadrien Alston at work. Photo by Dean Moses

“The National Kidney registry is a network throughout the United States of 104 hospitals that are affiliated, and in order for Adrian to get a kidney out of the network, someone like Sophia had to donate it into the network,” Lollo added.

Now with a voucher that will allow Alston to receive a kidney, her life will be saved thanks to the kindness of a stranger, she will have more years to not only serve Brooklyn as a police officer, but also many more years to spend with her family. While discussing the hardship of living with kidney failure, the police officer become emotional. Crying with both gratitude and happiness, she broke down as she shared her thanks for a woman who has in, all intents and purposes, saved her life yet also a woman she has never met. 

“Can I be honest with you? I felt like I cried like a baby–like a newborn baby. Living everyday currently on a machine, I have to do things at certain times, there are certain things I cannot do. Just hearing that she [Jackson] was able to donate on my behalf, to give me that ability and that freedom to live my normal life again. Oh, that melted my heart beyond belief,” Alston said, wiping away tears. “This is an extra special Thanksgiving.”

Sophia Jackson. Courtesy of Sophia Jackson

Although Jackson has yet to see Alston’s gratitude in person, the pair say they plan on meeting one another after the procedure is completed.

“If you can help one person you should, because you can only change the world one person at a time and you need to be the change in the world that you want to see,” Jackson said. 

Lollo believes that the kidney voucher program is the cure for those suffering from kidney failure since it eliminates the traditional need for two individuals to be matched. He hopes that people will be inspired by Alston and Jackson’s story, leading to more donations and more lives saved. 

“You know there are about 7,000 people in New York that need a kidney and the cure is out there. We don’t have to find the cure. The cure is the generosity of other people, the compassion of other people,” Lollo said.

For more information about the National Kidney Registry visit: kidneyregistry.org

Vadrien Alston outside Transit Distract 30.Photo by Dean Moses

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