Retirement for Mary Mason is hardly an ending. In fact, the first Monday after celebrating the occasion with colleagues, she’ll be on the road with a good friend, a well-equipped camper and new territory to cover. Her decision to retire from her position as a social worker on VM’s transplant team came from knowing it was simply time to move on. “There won’t be any problem finding enough to do,” says Mary.
Her career at Virginia Mason began in 2001, but she became familiar with the medical center much earlier. Besides being born at VM, her father, James Tate Mason, MD, practiced urology here until 1978. His father and Mary’s grandfather, the first James Tate Mason, MD, co-founded Virginia Mason Hospital in 1920 along with John Blackford, MD.
Dr. Mason, Mary’s father, practiced during the 1950s when single patient kidney dialysis machines weighed a half ton, and it took an even bigger machine, called the “monster,” to treat more than one patient at a time. Since demand for dialysis far exceeded capacity, an anonymous patient selection committee was composed of local residents and two physicians: one of whom was Mary’s father. It was the country’s first bioethics committee, and it would serve as a model to help shape the accessibility of health care on a national level.
Though her father never talked about his experiences on the confidential committee, it was an important learning opportunity for Mary. “I was aware of the ethics of what my father was doing from a very young age,” says Mary. The seeds were planted for what would become an attraction to the discipline of social work, and eventually Mary took a position at the Northwest Kidney Center. She had worked with dialysis patients for 12 years when the single transplant social worker position at VM opened up (today the Transplant Center employs three social workers). When Mary started, she worked with both kidney donors and recipients, but the practice would evolve to recognize both patient types needed their own advocate. Mary worked with the donors.
“The first step for anyone considering donation is education, even before they know if they’re a match,” says Mary. “It has to be their own decision because it affects every part of their life. It’s essential to have the support of those close to them.”
One reason Mary looks forward to retiring is her own close-knit family. Their support helped Mary make the decision in 2004 to become a kidney donor herself. She chose to donate her kidney to a recipient she didn’t know on the national transplant list. It’s extremely rare for someone on the list to receive a kidney from an anonymous live donor – 98 percent of live kidney donations (which typically last many years longer than kidneys from deceased donors) are connected somehow to the recipient.
Unexpectedly, Mary came to know her recipient, at first through the cards he still sends to her on every holiday. They met in person once when Mary was traveling in Eastern Washington. For Mary, the experience deepened her connection to her patients. “I have walked in their footsteps,” she says.
Ready to leave her clinical life, Mary looks forward to more travel and spending time with her husband, her two adult children and four grandchildren, her sisters, brothers and a lively contingent of nieces and nephews. “Having time with family is really important to me,” says Mary. “They are a big part of my upcoming plans.”
A version of this article was originally published on VM’s internal news site.