Why My Family Believes in Donating Life

Courtesy of Chris Queen

Author’s note: to any family or friends who read this, I hope I didn’t get any details wrong, but if I did, I ask your forgiveness in the spirit of telling the big picture of this story.

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In early 2018, I started to notice that my brother Matt was losing weight rapidly. He got thin quickly; at first, he blew it off, claiming that he was trying to lose weight, but it was clear that he was dropping too many pounds too quickly.

At UGA’s spring game on a beautiful April Saturday, Matt looked gaunt and thin, and his skin had a yellow tint to it. He acted like he wasn’t feeling bad, but we didn’t believe him. Sitting across from him as we were eating supper at Waffle House, I could barely look at him. My mom urged him to go to the doctor the following Monday morning.

His wife Kelly made him go to the doctor on Monday, and the doctor sent Matt straight to the ER. Matt’s blood pressure had skyrocketed, and his kidneys were failing — to this day, we don’t know which was the cause and which was the effect. The next few months were a harrowing journey for Matt, but our family, our church, and Matt’s wonderfully accommodating employer walked alongside him the whole way.

Shortly after that trip to the hospital, Matt began dialysis, and that became a regular part of his schedule. He had to severely limit some things in his diet, and the rest of the family tried to help him walk that path by limiting some of those foods ourselves. All the while, family and friends rallied around us, praying for us and supporting us.

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By some point in the summer, it became clear that the only way Matt was going to have a normal life was for him to undergo a kidney transplant. Naturally, as Matt’s family, we were willing to step up and do what we needed to do. I remember filling out all sorts of forms and doing a phone interview; my sister Ashley did the same, and other family members were willing to do so if Ashley and I couldn’t donate.

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In the course of looking at our medical histories, I was ruled out because I had had a couple of bouts with kidney stones, so Ashley was the candidate. She had to undergo more medical tests and conversations with a specialist to determine if she was up for it physically and psychologically. By September, we knew that she would be the donor and that Matt would get her kidney on October 12.

Courtesy of Chris Queen

We had a family vacation planned for the week before the transplant. We were going to spend a couple of days at Walt Disney World and then move over to Daytona Beach, but because of surgery prep, the rest of the family had to go home early while I had a three-bedroom condo at the beach all to myself. I got in a lot of praying for my family during those few days.

Finally, the day arrived: Oct. 12, 2018. We spent the day at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta, surrounded by family and friends, including two of the pastors from our church. Much like any other experience where my family is involved, we took over a large section of the waiting room. The day was full of laughter, prayers, and a little nervousness.

Removing Ashley’s kidney went off without a hitch, and transplanting it into Matt went well. Within a few days, everyone had recovered. Five years later — to the day as we publish this column — Matt is thriving, and Ashley is doing well, too.

Matt’s life has changed somewhat since the transplant. He has to take anti-rejection drugs, and there are a couple of foods he can’t eat. He has to watch his alcohol intake somewhat, and he has to be careful not to get too much sun. He can’t go into public pools, lakes, and rivers (the family pool and the ocean are fine), and he has to be a bit of a germophobe. Other than those minor adjustments, he hasn’t missed a beat.

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Matt and Ashley’s story is why my family believes in donating life. Ashley was able to be a living donor for her baby brother, which is heroic and brave. Even though I couldn’t donate my kidney, one day I’ll leave this life, and if my body parts can give someone life or improve the quality of the life they lead, I’m all for it.

I hope you’ll join my family in organ donation. You can learn more at donatelife.net.

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