A fundraising effort for a man who’s donating one of his kidneys to a complete stranger has caused a major snag for the woman who needs it.

Josh Dall-Leighton, 30, a father of three young children, offered to give a kidney to Christine Royles, 24, a single mother of a 2-year-old boy, after seeing a sign on her car that said she needed one. Royles, stunned by the man’s generosity, then began organizing fundraisers such as a pancake breakfast to help pay his bills while he takes time off from his job as a corrections officer. Someone else established an online fund for Dall-Leighton, which so far has raised nearly $48,000 from roughly 750 donors.

That campaign, on GoFundMe.com, is now causing a major headache.

Dall-Leighton and his wife, Ashley, say Maine Medical Center told them Wednesday that it has concerns about the amount of money raised to help the Windham couple. The transplant surgery is now on hold, the Dall-Leightons say.

They immediately called Royles with that information.

“I don’t know what to feel,” said Royles, who lives in South Portland. “I think I’m just kind of in shock.”

Maine Med spokeswoman Sue Pierter said the hospital would not comment on the case Wednesday. “We are working through the donor process as we do with all patients of the Maine Transplant Program,” she said.

The hospital’s hesitancy may have to do with ethical guidelines concerning donations. It is illegal to sell organs, and even the appearance that someone is profiting from a donation would be problematic for a health care institution.

There have been cases in which people have tried to profit from selling organs, and hospitals are especially wary when the donor is not a relative, said Dr. Arthur Caplan, a professor of bioethics at New York University School of Medicine.

“As a hospital, you can’t be associated in any way with anything that could be construed as the sale of a kidney,” Caplan said.

GENEROUS DONATIONS ADD COMPLICATIONS

Royles’ kidneys are failing because of an autoimmune disease. When she was diagnosed with the condition at age 22, she joined a list of more than 100,000 people in the United States who are awaiting kidneys from donors. Each year fewer than 17,000 receive one, and about one-third come from living donors.

Royles didn’t like those odds, so she took an unusual approach to finding her own donor – putting a message on the rear windshield of her car advertising her need for a kidney.

Dall-Leighton and his wife saw the car while driving near the Maine Mall in South Portland in November, and they immediately texted her. After going through a battery of tests, he learned last month that he is a strong potential match. A tentative date for the transplant surgery had been set for May 19. Royles and others then started trying to raise money to help the family.

A friend of the Dall-Leightons set up the GoFundMe site, hoping to raise $6,000 to cover his unpaid time off while he recovers from the surgery. That fund ballooned after the Portland Press Herald published a story and video about their situation, which was in turn picked up by local, national and international media.

“I didn’t raise any money,” Dall-Leighton said. “People’s generosity far exceeded … never in our wildest dreams did we imagine it would reach this.”

KIDNEY DONOR FEELS UNFAIRLY ATTACKED

Dall-Leighton was scheduled for a final compatibility test Wednesday, but instead the couple say they were told that the transplant program was concerned about the amount of money that was being raised. They said the program told them that they should donate the money to other organizations, and suggested that all the attention he’s been getting may make him feel like he wouldn’t be able to back out of the donation.

Dall-Leighton said he and his wife were stunned by what they heard.

“It kind of seemed like the whole facility was against Ashley and I,” he said. “I felt attacked, like I had done something wrong.”

His wife said her husband’s offer of a kidney has nothing to do with money – he just wants to save a life.

She said the couple has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of generosity, and moved by the positive comments people left after making donations on GoFundMe.

“Not one comment has said, ‘I’m going to give you $500 to buy your kidney for Christine,’ ” she said. “All the comments are, ‘God bless you – you’ve warmed my heart.’ ”

The Dall-Leightons said the transplant program told them they’d be back in touch with him Friday. Royles does have a 59-year-old uncle in Syracuse who’s a potential match, but Dall-Leighton is considered to be a much stronger candidate.

In the meantime, the couple is worried about what will happen to Royles.

“It’s really upsetting,” Ashley said. “This is Christine’s life.”

Staff Writer Joe Lawlor contributed to this report.


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