The gift of life

Borough native in need of kidney transplant

From left, Gail Skinner, Jeff Skinner, Ashley Norton and Nancy Skinner pose for a picture in Gail Skinner’s house in Naugatuck. Norton is currently in need of a kidney transplant and is hoping to find a live donor that will help her out. –LUKE MARSHALL

From left, Gail Skinner, Jeff Skinner, Ashley Norton and Nancy Skinner pose for a picture in Gail Skinner’s house in Naugatuck. Norton is currently in need of a kidney transplant and is hoping to find a live donor that will help her out. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — Thirteen years ago, Naugatuck native Ashley Norton turned to her father for a kidney donation.

Now, at the age of 26, Norton is once again facing a failing kidney and back on dialysis.

Norton, who is looking for a kidney donation through Living Kidney Donor Network,, grew up in Naugatuck before moving to Middlebury her senior year of high school. She first went into kidney failure when she was young.

“I was sick for a really long. Basically my mom took me to New Haven Hospital, pediatricians, regular doctors, the children’s hospital and nobody could figure out what was wrong with me,” Norton said.

At 13 years old Norton needed a blood transfusion and was being tested for leukemia. However, one of the doctors figured out that her kidneys had failed, which was causing her problems.

“From there I was on dialysis for nine and a half months,” Norton said.

Norton’s father Jeff Skinner, who works for the borough’s public works department, turned out to be the correct blood type and on March 14, 2001 he donated a kidney to Norton.

The kidney was good for 12 years, but because Norton had an ulcer and pancreatitis, her kidney functions started to decline again.

None of Norton’s family is a match, so they are unable to donate.

Her doctor told her to contact Hartford Hospital’s transplant program and begin the process of looking for a donor. She was officially listed as being in need of a transplant kidney last September.

Norton said it could take between five and eight years for the hospital to find her a suitable kidney.

“I’d donate the other one if I could. She’s as good a kid as you could ask for,” Skinner said.

Norton is part of the paired donor program. The program allows people in need of a transplant to sign up with a willing donor who is unable to donate to that specific person.

“You sign up with two, five, or however many people you can get, and what they do is they try to match you with someone to get you a kidney, but also take your partner and match that person with another person that needs a kidney. So it’s kind of a swap,” Norton said.

Norton is currently signed up with her stepmother Nancy Skinner and her aunt.

Nancy Skinner said is hopeful Norton can find a donor soon so that she can get her life back.

“We’d just like to see her get better so she can start her life,” Nancy Skinner said. “Every normal 26 year old is out partying with friends, working, shopping, getting married, having babies, and we’re over here waiting. Life’s kind of in limbo until you can get that straightened out.”

Although Norton is doing her best to live a normal life, being on dialysis causes pain in her joints and other organs.

“I was one class away from graduating at Naugatuck Valley, and I just haven’t been able to go back and finish that. I know I just don’t have enough good days in the week anymore to work or to go to school,” Norton said.

Norton was working towards a degree in behavioral science.

On her good days Norton enjoys taking her dog for a walk, going shopping, going to the movies or going out to eat.

“On the bad days I don’t leave my house. Half the time I don’t leave the bed. It can be too painful to get moving,” Norton said.

Jeff Skinner said even the good days are cause for worry.

“If she has a good day that means the next couple aren’t going to be,” Jeff Skinner said.

Norton’s grandmother Gail Skinner, who lives in Naugatuck, said she worries Norton’s health is declining the longer it takes to find a donor.

“She’s getting weaker and weaker. She sleeps all the time and she’s not eating properly. It’s very upsetting,” Gail Skinner said.

Norton said she understands why more people are not signed up to be donors yet.

“I understand completely the fear of going in for surgery and giving up an organ. I understand. But I have to ask somebody to do that for me,” Norton said.

Jeff Skinner said the recovery after donating a kidney is not that difficult. Like most major surgeries, a donor will likely be out of work for a few weeks.

“After six to eight weeks you feel pretty much normal,” Jeff Skinner said.

Ultimately the remaining kidney is able to compensate for the loss of the other, Nancy Skinner explained.

Since her father was a kidney donor, Norton said, if anything ever happened to him that required he need a kidney transplant, he would be put on the top of the list.

“They prioritize that because he was a donor and he chose to give up a kidney,” Norton said.

Norton said if anyone is interested in donating a kidney, they can contact Hartford Hospital Kidney Transplant Program’s Coleen Smart at (860) 972-4632.

Although she would like to be able to help Norton directly, Nancy Skinner is happy to be able to sign up as a donor partner with her.

“I’m excited about going into the program. I think it’s the greatest gift you could give anybody. It’s the gift of life,” Nancy Skinner said.