According to a Japanese proverb, if you want to measure a person’s true character just count the number of his or her friends. And in the case of one particular University of Maryland School of Medicine supporter and donor, those friends add up to the thousands.
Shortly after the passing of Anastasia C. Manis, friends and loved ones donated more than $20,000 in her name to the University of Maryland School of Medicine to support the Division of Transplantation. But the story of the Manis family goes beyond memorial gift-giving. It underscores the power of friendship and the ways that a tribute made in honor of one life may affect many others.
A ‘no-brainer’ decision
More than a decade ago, Anastasia Manis — or “Anna,” for short — was diagnosed with interstitial nephritis, a kidney disorder that can cause problems with the organ’s functioning. And although she was able to control the disorder with medication for several years, one of Anna’s kidneys eventually began to fail and her doctors gave her two choices: go on dialysis or get a transplant.
According to her daughter, Harriet Adam, Anna didn't like either option. Dialysis seemed scary and limiting, and she didn’t feel comfortable asking anyone, including family members, to donate a kidney. But before she could begin the decision-making process, one of her closest friends, Judi Wobensmith, stepped in to offer a solution.
“Anna called me one night to say her condition had changed and the doctors wanted her to go on dialysis,” Judi said.
But Anna was reluctant to go through with it, Judi recalled, because she was petite and worried that the process, which often involves inserting a catheter or other tubing under the skin to access an artery or vein, would be too uncomfortable. So she told Judi, whom she had first befriended in the late 1970s when both worked at the same Annapolis dress shop, that her only other option was to get on the transplant list for a new kidney.
“So I said, why not see if I’m a match?” Judi said. “And it turned out I was, which was very unusual. It was a no-brainer for me to offer to donate.”
The two went through an accelerated testing period and, within a few short months, were ready to go. Harriet said the experience had a profound impact on her mother and Judi, changing their relationship and who they were as people, forever.
“They talked on the phone on a daily basis and visited each other weekly,” she said. “They became like sisters.”
Back to normal
Anna’s surgery, performed in the late fall of 2006 by Stephen T. Bartlett, MD, the Peter Angelos Distinguished Professor of Surgery and Chairman for the Department of Surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, was a success. Anna was able to resume a normal life, without the need for dialysis, returning to what she loved most — reading, traveling, attending her grandchildren’s sporting events, and volunteering for various local community organizations.
According to her son, Nick Manis, the surgery afforded Anna a new sense of freedom in her life.
“It gave her the opportunity to live a normal, exciting life, and not to be tied to a machine,” said Nick, who has served on the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center Board of Advisors. “She got to live her life the way she liked to.”
Anna was so pleased with the outcome and the way she was treated at the University of Maryland, in fact, that she and her husband, George, became loyal supporters of the School of Medicine. Shortly after the surgery, the couple made a financial donation to support the Division of Transplantation and the kidney research and work performed by Dr. Bartlett and his team. They continued that gesture annually for the next seven years.
“They became very close to Steve Bartlett and the people at Maryland,” Nick said. “Mom trusted them immensely and wanted to support their work, as a way to give back.”
“That’s the kind of person my mom was,” added Harriet. “Because she was going to Maryland every few weeks [for routine check-ups] she made a point to meet people and was very friendly and outgoing. It was as much a social visit to her as it was a medical one.”
A change of plans
In May 2013, Anna and George began discussions with the University of Maryland about making a new gift to fund the purchase of some much-needed equipment for the transplant division. However, before the details of the funding project could be completed, tragedy struck: Anna died unexpectedly in February 2014, and George passed away later that same year.
In the wake of their loss, the children and family members decided to honor the work started by Anna and George, and the spirit of their relationship with the University, by requesting that memorial gifts be directed to the transplantation division. About 100 gifts were received, totaling more than $20,000, which was more than enough to purchase a state-of-the-art, high-definition imaging system that is used both in research and clinical care. Remaining memorial gifts were used to establish The Anastasia Manis Kidney Transplant Research and Education Fund to provide support to future research needs.
“The number of gifts and sizable donation serve as a testament to the kind of person Anna was,” said Judi Wobensmith.
“Anna touched so many lives through her friendships and volunteer work in the community,” Judi said. “There was standing room only at her service. Which should not be a surprise to anyone who knew her.”
That sentiment was echoed by Dr. Bartlett, whose kidney and pancreas transplant program at the University of Maryland Medical Center has become one of the largest and most successful programs in the United States.
“Anastasia Manis was my patient, and over time George and Anna became dear friends,” he said. “We were honored by the community’s outpouring of support to create a fund in Anna’s memory to advance discoveries in kidney transplantation.”
Creating ‘something tangible’
Now, two years after her passing, the family members hope their efforts will translate into annual gifts to honor their mother’s memory.
“We knew that we wanted the gifts to do more than buy a piece of equipment, to go toward something that would support transplants and the department and be utilized for many, many years, long after mom’s death,” said Nick. “We wanted something tangible so that her memory could live on. Not only the piece of equipment but how the equipment would be used.”
Gifts to the Anastasia Manis Kidney Transplant Fund will help advance solutions to the most challenging issues surrounding kidney failure and quickly translate these solutions from bench to bedside helping other patients like Anna with their kidney transplant experience.
“My hope is that through the donations made in mom’s honor, we can help many more people in the future get their life extended, to enjoy their life and family for as long as they can,” said Harriet. “That’s what my mom would have wanted. And maybe we can inspire others to think in the same way, to give back to the place that has given them so much.”
If you would like to make a gift to support the Anastasia Manis Kidney Transplant Fund, click here or to create a similar fund, contact Karen Hussey, Director of Development, Surgery, at 410-706-2846.
• Give to the Anastasia Manis Kidney Transplant Fund
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