In August of 2008, Santa Barbara City Fire Captain Heidi Rockenbach was hit with the news that for an unknown reason her kidneys were failing, and that she would need a kidney transplant to continue her career as a firefighter. UCLA Medical Center placed her on the national kidney transplant list but with an average waiting time for a deceased donor's kidney being 5-7 years.
Captain Rockenbach decided to pursue finding a living donor. Not quite knowing how to ask for this kind of help, her friends took over the local outreach. It wasn't long before a Santa Barbara woman, Kathy Judy, who knew Captain Rockenbach from high school, came forward and offered one of her kidneys. With her goal being to donate her kidney before Captain Rockenbach needed to start dialysis, Ms. Judy tenaciously moved through the months of testing, and the transplant was successfully performed in November of last year.
Due to advancements in transplantation, Ms Judy had her kidney removed laparoscopically and returned to work in just 2 weeks. As of this week, Captain Rockenbach is back working on the fire engine, at Station 4 on Ontare Road. Her message to the community is how much a single donated kidney can affect many lives - not only the recipients, but those also of family, friends, and others waiting for a kidney donation.
With so many people in need, and the waiting time for others so long, Captain Rockenbach feels very fortunate to have received such a timely gift from Ms. Judy. This week, the Santa Barbara City firefighters recognized Ms. Judy by making her an honorary firefighter.
Captain Rockenbach and her family credit Ms. Judy's generous donation, the expertise of UCLA Medical Center, the cooperation of the City, and the support of her fellow firefighters with getting her back to the career she loves and a healthy life. Engineer Dave Ward received the Santa Barbara City Firefighter of the Year Award for his constant support of Heidi, and coordinating role as "kidney liaison" during the kidney donation process.