Just about fully recovered from surgery in August, Tustin PD Crime Analyst Suzanna Howard sat in her office one early afternoon, business as usual.
Judging from her relaxed demeanor, one would never know the surgery she had a couple months ago helped save a life. Not unless, that is, one thought to ask about the kidney-shaped pendant hanging from her necklace.
“My part was really easy,” Howard said of the surgery in which she donated one of her kidneys.
But the story is more complex. It began in 1975, when a woman named Donna Smedley donated her own kidney to save her sister, Vicki Haggen, who was in kidney failure. Fast-forward 42 years later, when Haggen’s daughter, Terra Huntley, had been on dialysis for 2 years and in kidney failure for 6 years, and was in serious need of a live donor.
After Haggen posted on Facebook asking for friends and family with O blood type to be tested to help save her daughter, Howard took the initiative. Not because she knew the story about how her stepmother (Smedley) had donated to Haggen. Or because she was trying to be a hero. She just wanted to help. And for her, this was something she could give, “like donating blood.”
Of course, Howard understands the enormous impact her action has had on Huntley, who is doing well.
When Howard went to the University of Washington Medical Center (where Haggen and Smedley’s surgeries also took place) for the final phase of testing and to have the surgery, she met with Haggen and Huntley. Howard and Huntley had met only once before.
According to Haggen, she told Howard: ‘There just aren’t enough thank you’s’… What do you say to someone who’s saving your daughter’s life?’
“And of course she’s very, very humble… This is really a big deal.”
Howard is so modest, in fact, that she didn’t mention to her friends or family that she was getting tested as a possible donor until she found out she was a good match.
Had she not had to take six weeks off work and have her duties covered, “I probably wouldn’t have told anyone.”
Given a clean bill of health, she wasn’t concerned about the surgery. Of course, her husband, who works at the TPD as a patrol officer, was a different story.
“My husband was definitely a lot more concerned than I was about the whole thing,” she said.
Fortunately, both surgeries and recoveries went well. Howard spent part of her recovery in Washington and then visited her mom before returning home. The TPD sent plenty of well-wishing her way.
“My detectives’ unit sent me flowers that said, ‘Hurry back, we have fliers that need to go out,’” she said with a smile.
The response when asked if she’d do it again?
“Absolutely,” she answered without a pause.
“Suzanna’s such a giver … in the long run it didn’t surprise us at all,” Smedley said. “It’s just been a wonderful uniting of two families.”