I am a husband, Jamie for 4 years, and father to two beautiful kids, Liam, 2 years old, and Josephine, 9 months old.
Six months ago, I donated my kidney to my older brother, Tim, who had stage 4 Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). He was diagnosed in August of 2015. It started with a visit to the ER because he was having troubling breathing one night. Tim isn’t the type to complain when sick or not feeling well, so this was alarming. They kept him in the hospital for a few days to monitor what was going on. His blood pressure was extremely high (240/170) and they could not figure out why. After a few tests, they realized the kidneys were not functioning correctly. I would check in with him frequently to get an update on what was going on. Tim would proclaim that everything was fine or that there was not any news. Until one day after I checked in with him on how his appointment went, I got a text, saying ‘Not good. I need to start medication immediately. And will eventually need a transplant.’ Once I got that text, I started googling anything I could on Kidney transplants. How could someone donate, what kind of tests were involved, how does someone match, what is the recovery like. I had it in my head that I was going to donate the next day. Which obviously isn’t how it goes.
After finally getting tests scheduled, in May, I started the process of trying to match. As most of you know, the process is long. I did the physical exam, saw the social worker, the financial rep, all of that. For anyone that has donated, you know the feelings that you go through. There are times of confidence, but there are also times of doubt. I was no different. I had doubts. My wife, Jamie, had doubts. We were both scared. We talked about how we could handle everything following surgery. We had our own responsibilities to worry about; growing young family, jobs, and a house. But The main reason I wanted to do this was that, outside of the obvious of wanting my brother to be healthy, was that I wanted my children to know Tim the way I know Tim. I wanted them to be able to enjoy their uncle.
After Jojo (June 16) was born, I put scheduling of my final few tests on hold. She was breach so my wife had to endure a surgery of her own. One major life event at a time was enough. We wanted to make sure they both would be home safe and healthy.
Then came Vanessa. She was going through the testing at the same time as me. It was her and I that were seemingly the strongest two candidates to donate. She was able to complete all of her testing much sooner than I was. It came to the point that she was a perfect, healthy match.
Vanessa was presented to the transplant committee, approved as the donor, and her and Tim picked the transplant date. After that, she found a lump. Not thinking anything of it since she just had her mammogram, the doctors advised that she get it checked just to be sure. The results came back quickly and I got a text that day from Danielle, my sister in-law, that I will remember for the rest of my life. ‘Vanessa has been diagnosed with breast cancer. She can no longer donate.’ The feeling of shock and sadness were overwhelming; sadness for not only Vanessa, but also for Tim and Danielle. To go from a surgery date scheduled, to back to waiting, would have been too much for most people to handle.
My wife and I knew, at this point, that I was the one that would do this. We realized that Tim couldn’t continue to wait. We would figure the rest of it out later. I was able to see a Primary Care Physician, which I hadn’t in years. Once that was done it was on to the CT scan and final blood work. It all happened so quickly (few weeks).
Tim’s health had decreased drastically (which of course, he didn’t tell us until after surgery). He was getting sicker, but he never once complained and always claimed to be fine. Physically, we could all see it. He was exhausted. Some days he couldn’t walk. He had no appetite. But yet, he never missed a day of work. He didn’t want anyone to worry. That’s just the type of person he is. Outside of our dad, he’s the hardest worker I have ever met. And to see someone that you love, and, admire and respect go through that, is extremely tough, but to see your best friend go through that, its gut wrenching. I hated seeing him like that.
After going back and forth with the transplant team, we scheduled surgery. It was for September 16. The day prior and the hours before, I was not nervous. I was at peace with it all and ready to get him healthy again. Thanks to the doctors at Allegheny General Hospital, we both had a successful surgery. In all honesty, it still has not sunk what we went through. The only thing that really matters is that we both are happy and healthy now. Seeing him now, being the best husband, brother, uncle, friend that he is, makes it all worth it.
Location: Pittsburgh, PA