Receiving a donor kidney from an unknown, deceased donor is a gift of life to anyone in need of a transplant. Receiving an organ donation from a living family member makes the gift even more meaningful, when you consider the risks and sacrifices associated with making that choice.
Tim Davis, Principal at Peebles High School, experienced that gift when his son, Aaron, offered to become his living kidney donor. Ten years ago, Tim was dying and his kidney disease was progressing rapidly, while the donor list was progressing hardly at all. He was fast approaching the point of dialysis when Aaron stepped forward, “You need one, I got one,” he told his father.
“I was resistant to it at first, I think any parent would be” said Davis, “It seemed too risky, but I got to thinking about the fact that I’d lost my own father when I was 23, and how much of a void his death left in my life. Aaron was 18 then, and I didn’t want that to happen to him. I realized I would have done the same thing to save my father, and I didn’t want my son to go through life without his father.”
Unlike most people who develop kidney disease, Davis had none of the major risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or a family history of kidney failure.
His disease was the result of an adverse reaction to a dose of penicillin he’d been given when he was 18 months old. He wasn’t even aware that he had a kidney disease until his doctor discovered it in 2001 during a regular check up.
“Dr. Lim was my doctor. During her residency in the Philippines she’d seen the same kind of kidney damage in children, caused by over use of penicillin and allergic reactions to the drug. It was by the grace of God that I had a doctor who knew from her past experience what was causing my kidneys to fail. Most people who have this don’t know until their kidneys actually do fail.”
After his diagnosis, Tim began treatment, but over the next six years the disease progressed into end-stage renal failure.
“It progressed fairly quickly,” Tim recalled. “I was on a waiting list for a donor after they’d tested several family members and none matched close enough. I was holding out for a donor kidney from a cadaver. I was still working, but I was horribly ill from all the poisons and toxins in my body.”
Being on the national transplant waiting list required that Tim never be more than one hour away from Christ Hospital in Cincinnati, where he was being treated. “If they called you had one hour to get there or the kidney would go to someone else. Being on the list controls your life, you have to give up a lot of things.”
By 2006 Tim’s doctor’s wanted to start dialysis, but he wanted to hold out for a donor.
Aaron was 13 years old when his father was diagnosed. “I didn’t really comprehend the full meaning of what was happening to my Dad, but five years later, I was in college and I came to understand what it was all about.”
He came forward and told his father he wanted to be tested, he wanted to donate his kidney.
“People would say that’s awesome, or that must be really intense for you, but I thought it was what I was supposed to do,” Aaron said. “If you have the opportunity to save your parent’s life, why wouldn’t you do it? If I’m physically capable of doing it, I should do it because it’s the right thing to do. I felt God was saying I was supposed to do this.”
Even though he was deeply squeamish about needles, he set aside his fear and began the testing process.
“The first few times Aaron went to Christ Hospital, he’d get light-headed when they’d draw blood.” Tim laughs, “The last few times he went the nurses had a bed and wet towels ready for him.”
The tests revealed Aaron was a near perfect match, and the following Tuesday, both he and his father were being prepped for surgery.
“They took Aaron into surgery first,” Tim says. “I had a supernatural peace come over me before the surgery, it felt right. Still, you see your son being rolled down the hallway and you know what’s going to happen, and that’s a worry.”
The following morning Aaron called his father. “He sounded strong, healthy, and chipper,” Tim recalled. “As a parent that made me feel a lot better.”
Aaron left the hospital on Thursday, just two days after the surgery, and Tim followed on Saturday.
“The kidney recipient feels better instantly,” Tim explains, but the donor’s body has to adjust to losing a kidney, Aaron was tired all the time for several months afterward, until his remaining kidney grew enough to meet his body’s demands.”
Today, both father and son are in good health, and share not only a pair of kidneys, but also a deep and abiding appreciation for the gift of life.
March is National Kidney Month and the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) is urging all Americans to give their kidneys a second thought and a well-deserved checkup.
According to the NKF website, 1 in 3 American adults is at risk for kidney disease. Major risk factors include diabetes, high blood pressure, a family history of kidney failure and being age 60 or older.
Kidney disease often has no symptoms, and it can go undetected until very advanced. But a simple urine test can tell if kidney disease is present. It’s important to get tested because early detection and treatment can slow or prevent the progression of the disease.
During National Kidney Month in March, and in honor of World Kidney Day on March 14, the NKF offers health activities to promote awareness of kidneys, risk factors and kidney disease.
Free Screenings are provided throughout the month of March for those most at risk for kidney disease. Locations and information can be found on the calendar on their website at https://www.kidney.org/news/monthly/ Focus_ KidneyMonth
The National Kidney Foundation is the leading organization in the U.S. dedicated to the awareness, prevention and treatment of kidney disease for hundreds of thousands of healthcare professionals, millions of patients and their families, and tens of millions of Americans at risk.