Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Press Coverage

FBI agent a reluctant hero
(http://www.suntimes.com/lifestyles/health/346261,CST-NWS-kidney18.article)

April 18, 2007

BY NATASHA KORECKI Staff Reporter/nkorecki@suntimes.com

He's an FBI special agent, a father, a crisis hotline volunteer, and -- on Thursday -- he'll donate a kidney to someone he just met.

But Tom Simon doesn't want to be called a hero.

Simon, 37, says he wanted to make a difference in someone's life and show others that donating an organ isn't difficult to do.

He looked on a donor Web site, www.matchingdonors.com, and found Brenda Lagrimas' profile.
She was young, wanted to start a family and, like him, was in law enforcement. To Simon, she was the perfect match.

"I'd like to draw attention to the fact that this isn't a giant sacrifice in my life," Simon said. "Brenda is going to die if she doesn't get a kidney. I have one to spare. I'm not being a hero. This is social justice."

Simon started with the FBI 12 years ago and investigates major financial and white-collar crimes. He's married and has two children, ages 4 and 3. He made the decision after many long talks with his wife, he said.

Donating an organ isn't as daunting as most people think, Simon said. He'll undergo laparoscopic surgery and expects to be home within a day and, after a rest at home, back at work by May 1.

'I will finally be free'

Kidney donations are the most common type of organ donation. Experts say the risk to the donor is low because the remaining kidney will pick up the necessary work.

Lagrimas, 31, of Evanston, was diagnosed with kidney disease in 2003. She works as a victim witness specialist for the Cook County state's attorney's office. In 2004, she developed congestive heart failure. Her malfunctioning kidneys drain her energy. She gets dialysis three times a week for 3.5 to 4 hours each session.

She says she thinks transplant surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital on Thursday will change her life. "I will finally be free," she said.

Lagrimas also has her friends at work to thank for matching up with Simon. For her 30th birthday, colleagues collected more than $600 to buy a lifetime ad on matching donors.com.
Sites like matchingdonors.com are controversial because they reward recipients who put on the best marketing vs. those with the greatest medical need.

Simon initially walked into Northwestern and offered to be an anonymous donor. But he later changed his mind and started surfing the Web.

"I would have wanted the person to be exactly like Brenda," Simon said. "She was my dream recipient."

Coincidentally, Lagrimas was also on Northwestern's wait list.

Her time on the Web site was an emotional roller coaster, she said. People showed interest in helping, then faded. Others tried -- illegally -- to sell her their organs or asked that she help them into the country in return. One man from Texas corresponded with her for eight months, then disappeared.

When Simon e-mailed her, she didn't even respond right away, thinking it was just another false hope. She couldn't believe it when he turned out to be legit.

"He doesn't see it, he's practically saving my life," Lagrimas said. "He's a hero to me. He's my hero."

© Copyright 2007 Sun-Times News Group
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Going beyond the call: FBI agent to give kidney
Recipient is a woman who also has a link to law enforcement

By Jeff Coen

Tribune staff reporter

Published April 17, 2007, 9:15 PM CDT

During her job helping victims of domestic violence navigate the Cook County court system, Brenda Lagrimas could sometimes forget there were very good people in the world.

That is until she met Tom Simon.

A 12-year Chicago FBI agent, Simon will donate a kidney Thursday to Lagrimas, a woman he never met before going online to look for someone to give a kidney to earlier this year.

"He's just an awesome guy," Lagrimas said Tuesday. "I totally lucked out."

Lagrimas, 31, of Evanston suffers a type of nephritis that created scar tissue and left her kidneys unable to filter toxins normally, and she has been on dialysis for a few years. Simon, 37, had become interested in being a living donor, and the two found each other on a Web site that helps link those who need organs to those who want to give them.

Simon, a married father of a young daughter and son, was already a regular blood and bone-marrow donor when he became interested in going further."

The thought of being able to save someone's life by donating a kidney has been an attractive option to me," Simon said.

It's a low-risk proposition for the donor, and obviously has a tremendous upside for the recipient, said Simon, who believes he has an ethical obligation to be a living donor."If you have the ability to help someone out with very little to ask of yourself, I feel you should do it," he said.
He said he was especially happy to find a recipient who is a younger person who wants a family someday, and he was pleased that Lagrimas has a connection to law enforcement. Lagrimas has spent eight years as a victim-witness specialist for the Cook County state's attorney's office.

She first learned of her condition in 2003, and it progressed until she learned she needed dialysis in May 2004. No one in her family was a suitable donor, so for her 30th birthday in 2005, her co-workers bought a lifetime placement for her profile on http://www.matchingdonors.com/. Simon e-mailed just as Lagrimas was dealing with the disappointment of not hearing back from someone in Texas who had been testing to see if he was a good donor.

After a few messages, they spoke on the phone. "He said he would try not to put me through the worst job interview ever," she said, remembering Simon asking her a few questions about her life and her past. "I felt pretty comfortable knowing he worked for the FBI."

The pair will have surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and Simon said he expects to be back at work May 1 investigating white-collar criminals.

jcoen@tribune.com
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune

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