April 20, 2022

The perfect match: Living kidney donation saves LAPD officer

Bobbie Norman is grateful for 15 years of health after his wife — a fellow officer — donated her lifesaving kidney.

From left, Sara Faden Norman and her husband, Robert "Bobbie" Norman.

Although fit and active, Los Angeles Police Department Officer Robert “Bobbie” Norman commonly experienced back pain; he attributed it to years of carrying heavy police gear and had learned to ignore it. However, while running the Los Angeles Marathon in 2002, Bobbie recalls suffering from severe back pain.

"I was in such good health and very active, so I brushed off the pain I had been feeling,” Norman shared.

In such extreme pain after the marathon, Norman was compelled to make an appointment with his doctor.

Once evaluated by Kaiser Permanente nephrologist Gregory Krastein, MD, he received some shocking news: Norman, who had no family history of cancer, had a cancerous tumor in his left kidney.

As a result, Norman underwent surgery to remove his left kidney. The remaining kidney, functioning at only 15%, could not sustain a man of his size and musculature, so he was immediately started on dialysis treatment 2 times a week.

Healing and hope

As Norman struggled to make sense of his new reality, he took comfort in having a trusted team of specialists focused on his care. 

“Dr. Krastein was relentless throughout my experience,” said Norman. “He never gave up on me.”

Norman continued working and living his life for 4 years while on dialysis. Only Sara Faden, his wife and also an LAPD officer, and immediate family members knew that he was fighting cancer and undergoing dialysis treatments.

“Bobbie was so brave when he had the surgery to remove his kidney and start on dialysis; always such a trooper — a beautiful smile and positive outlook,” said Susan Eshelman, RN, who has been a part of Norman’s care team since his cancer journey began. 

From left, Sara Faden Norman and her husband, Robert "Bobbie" Norman.
From left, Sara Faden Norman and her husband, Robert "Bobbie" Norman.

Only for use for Kidney Transplant Story from KP Woodland Hills.

The perfect match 

Faden supported her husband every step of the way. When Norman found out that his remaining kidney had to be removed and he needed a kidney transplant, Faden did not hesitate to offer her own. She had her blood tested and learned that she was a perfect match.  

The average waiting time for a kidney from a deceased donor is 3 to 5 years. In contrast, with a  donation from a living person, a patient may be able to receive a transplant in less than a year.   

“Bobbie was so blessed to have his wife, Sara, make a living donation to him for his kidney transplant,” said Eshelman.

Norman received his kidney transplant at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in close collaboration with his Kaiser Permanente medical team.   

Calling it the happiest day of her life, next to her wedding day, Faden gave Norman his life back with her generous gift, freeing him from lengthy and sometimes painful dialysis treatments. “It was like being born again,” said Norman.  

Donate life

Norman and Faden encourage others to become living kidney donors. 

“There’s no better gift than to help save someone’s life,” Faden said.

In 2022, 15 years after his successful kidney transplant, Faden’s gift to Norman still gives him freedom from dialysis. He reminds other transplant patients to take their medications when they are supposed to and not stop just because they feel good.

Looking back on their experience, Norman and Faden are grateful for the care they received at Kaiser Permanente Woodland Hills Medical Center and Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.

As Norman puts it, “I’ve had cancer 3 times and a kidney transplant — Kaiser Permanente has saved my life many times.”