Blog of Bloodworks Northwest

"A PhD in Wisdom:" Remembering Nancy Spaeth

Nancy Spaeth. Photo credit Northwest Kidney Centers

In all her 75 years, Seattle resident Nancy Spaeth was many things: mother, registered nurse, volunteer, dialysis pioneer, patient advocate, the longest-surviving kidney patient in the world, and a model of strength and resilience to us all. And although she passed on January 14th, 2022, her impact and legacy will live on forever.

Diagnosed with kidney disease at a young age in 1966, she received four kidney transplants throughout her life, beginning in 1972 with a donation from her brother. Nancy was nothing if not determined, attending college while making sure to get home early from dates for her overnight dialysis, working full time as a substitute and kindergarten teacher while raising her two children, and continuing to pursue her passions of hiking, snow skiing, and gardening for many years.

She wrote in an auto-biographical essay in 2006 that her mom once told her “Nancy, you can do anything if you want it badly enough.” Throughout everything she ever said or did, it’s clear Nancy wanted to live. And it might have taken her four extra kidneys and a lot of fight to do it, but live she did.  

Nancy served on the board of Life Options Rehabilitation Advisory Council, a group that supports education and rehabilitation for dialysis patients, and was a fixture at Bloodworks Northwest events over the years. She often credited Bloodworks and Northwest Kidney Center with helping saving and extending her life:

“Bloodworks Northwest not only gave me lots of blood transfusions when I needed them, but they matched every one of my kidneys to me. And they have a group of people who do tissue typing to make sure that an organ will match you so that you don’t reject it.”

-Nancy Spaeth

Nancy used her presence in the Kidney and Blood communities to tell her story, and encourage others to donate blood and become organ donors. Her story of compassion, resilience, beating the odds is an inspiration to all. With her family we mourn her loss, and thank her not only for her dedication to Bloodworks Northwest, but for her contribution to kidney care, innovation, and advancement the world over.

We’d like to end this tribute with Nancy’s own words, from that 2006 essay titled “The nurse, mother of two and four transplants—Nancy Spaeth tells her story

“All I ever wanted was a normal, decent life with children and the opportunity to give back to society at least as much as I have been given. I continue to strive toward that end.

I just came in from raking the leaves, carrying wood to the house, and walking my dog, Maggie, to edit what I have written here. I have to get busy now as my children are coming for dinner. What my father always told me has stayed with me all these years: ‘Nancy, you can do anything, if you want it badly enough.’

Life is a classroom, an adventure. You need to find something to work toward, to hope for. I am hoping for a PhD in Wisdom. I learn a little bit more every day.”

-Nancy Spaeth
February 9, 2022 3:14PM

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