Photos of kidney donor and recipient and students standing in front of a livestream in their classroom.

Hambright teacher shares her kidney donation experience with students

Students in Lorien Gilbert’s third-grade classroom at Hambright Elementary School recently got to meet someone who has a very strong bond with their teacher – Sarah Weiss, the recipient of one of Gilbert’s kidneys.

Lorien donated her left kidney to Weiss on November 2. Two months later, on January 10, the two were reunited during a livestream call that included a Q&A with Gilbert’s students.

Lorien had never met Weiss until she reached out to her to offer her kidney in July 2023. It was Lorien’s third attempt at making a kidney donation.

The first time, she underwent testing to donate to a cafeteria worker at Hambright, but was not a match. She tried again to aid a student’s ailing father. After months of testing at a different hospital, she was approved to donate, but another donor kidney had already become available.

“At that point, I decided to donate my kidney to whomever needed it,” Gilbert recalled. “I knew I was healthy, and I had seen how devastating and painful it was for families whose loved ones did not have healthy kidneys.”

One of her students mentioned the name of someone on a prayer list at her church who had kidney problems, and Gilbert tracked her down in Williamsport, PA, and contacted her via email.

“When I opened Lorien’s email, I cried,” Weiss recalled. “For me, it meant I was given hope that people still cared and wanted me to live my best life.”

Weiss had lost her right kidney to cancer in 2010, and her remaining kidney was declining rapidly, from 60 percent function to 12 percent, draining her of energy and forcing her to spend hours in dialysis three days a week.

When Gilbert learned that Weiss was a kindergarten teacher for Commonwealth Charter Academy, there was an instant bond.

“We met for the first time about a week before surgery,” Gilbert said. “On the night before the procedure, her parents had dinner with my mom. Our parents waited for us together in the hospital during surgery at Geisinger Hospital.”  

After a two-day hospital stay, Gilbert went home to recover with the aid of her mother and lots of support from her students. Weiss’s stay was much longer, as doctors monitored her body’s reaction to the transplant. She, too, is now back on her feet.

While Gilbert was recovering, students made her a book called “Where Is Ms. Gilbert’s Kidney?’” They also put together a “get well” basket for her and made cards for Weiss.

“Reading their book underneath the cozy blanket they sent to me was such a nice way to recover,” Gilbert recalled. 

The January 10 livestream conversation was a reunion of sorts for Gilbert and Weiss. Students asked them both questions about their surgery and recovery. Weiss also read the book “Rainbow Fish” to the students, emphasizing its theme that self-sacrifice can lead to friendship. 

How do the two teachers – who now text each other every week – feel now?

“Today, it’s amazing how it feels to be awake all day and be able to teach without being so knocked out. No coffee, pure joy, and a new kidney!” Weiss said.

“I will forever be in debt to Lorien. She not only physically saved my life but also mentally saved my life. She shared her spare, and now I can run on that spare.”

Gilbert said she feels “absolutely perfect.” “I sometimes forget that I’m missing an organ!  My body is healthy, and I am happy.”

“I wish I had more kidneys to share, and since I don’t, I know it’s important for me to tell others about my experience,” she said. “Maybe someone out there reading this today will think about becoming a kidney donor.” 

Many thanks to Ms. Gilbert for inspiring her students.

Lorien Gilbert and Sarah Weiss
Lorien Gilbert, left, and Sarah Weiss.
Lorien Gilbert and her students in front of a TV screen showing Sarah Weiss.
Mrs. Gilbert and her students with Sarah Weiss on the video screen.