When the day of his kidney transplant arrived, Blayne was understandably nervous and scared. Would his body reject the kidney? Would his donor back out? Would their kidney be healthy?
It was only when he woke up from his successful transplant surgery that he was able to see through a fog that he hadn’t even known was there.
“I’d been sick for so long, for 15 months, that I got used to feeling horrible,” he said. “When I woke up from my surgery ... my head was clear.”
Blayne doesn’t know whose kidney transformed his life, but he does know that a fellow law enforcement officer stepped up to make a life-changing sacrifice. Blayne’s story is a reminder of how paired kidney donations can help us save the people closest to us even if we’re not a match.
His kidney donation story starts decades ago, with a shocking diagnosis.
A Rare Diagnosis
Blayne was a healthy 20-something when a rare kidney disease took him by surprise. It’s called IgA nephropathy, also known as Berger’s disease, and it’s caused by the body’s own immune system. Specifically, disease-fighting proteins called antibodies collect in the kidneys, reducing their ability to filter blood.
When he was first diagnosed more than 20 years ago Blayne was admitted to the hospital. But this disease often gets worse very slowly, and he was able to return to work as a sheriff’s deputy.
In the summer of 2015, though, his life changed again.
Dialysis Into Transplant
His kidneys were already working at only half of their ideal function, but the disease pushed them down to 35 percent. Soon, he needed dialysis, which required him to be connected to a machine that would clean his blood and take over for his kidneys.
After three months of dialysis, Blayne and his family looked into getting a transplant. He applied and was accepted into the living donor program at the AdventHealth Transplant Institute.
“For many of our patients, a transplant is the only option and we would not be able to help them if it wasn’t for the thoughtfulness and generosity of people in the community who become donors and give someone the gift of life,” said said Bobby Nibhanupudy, MD, medical director of abdominal transplant at AdventHealth.
But he also heard bad news — he had a rare blood type that meant he might have to wait five to seven years for a kidney.
But he didn’t have to wait years. Thanks to the generosity of someone he didn’t even know, he waited weeks.
Finding a Match
Blayne’s wife posted on social media about her husband’s need for a kidney, and a police officer named Bobby decided to get tested. He wasn’t a match, but, thanks to a program called paired kidney donation, he could still donate.
There are mismatched pairs like Bobby and Blayne all around the country. One person wants to donate a kidney but their blood doesn’t match the person they want to donate to.
Imagine for a moment another such pair; a husband and wife we’ll call Maria and Juan, who needs a kidney.
Maria isn’t a match for Juan, but let’s say she is a match for Blayne. So she can donate her kidney to Blayne and Bobby can donate to Juan. Everyone gets a kidney.
As Dr. Nibhanupudy explains, “If a living donor doesn’t have a compatible blood type with their intended recipient, the donor can consider being entered into the national paired exchange, where they may be a match for someone else.”
Blayne waited only a few weeks before learning he had a match as part of what’s called a “kidney transplant chain.” These chains link up several pairs of mismatched donors — eight, in Blayne’s case. In this chain, Bobby’s kidney went to a woman in the northwest United States.
Last year, one extraordinary chain involved 101 transplants.
Often, kidney transplant chains begin with an altruistic donor, meaning someone who gives a kidney to a stranger. Dr. Nibhanupudy explains how altruistic donations work in our recent blog post about two sisters who donated their kidneys in honor of their father.
After his surgery, meanwhile, Blayne is healthier than he’s been in decades.
“Post-transplant, my life is back to normal, as normal it can be,” he says. “I try to change the way I eat, exercise.”
Dr. Nibhanupudy says these quick recoveries from devastating illnesses aren’t unusual after transplant surgeries.
“Most patients are feeling great physically pretty quickly after their surgery,” he says.
About 4,500 Americans die each year waiting for a kidney. Paired donations are a way to connect donors from around the country to spread hope and save lives, including Blayne’s.
“Because of AdventHealth and the paired exchange living transplant program, I have a new lease on life,” he says.
Dr. Nibhanupudy says he feels privileged to help provide a world-class program “that makes life-saving transplantation a more viable option for families in Florida and the Southeast.”
To learn whether our living donor program might be a good fit for you, we invite you to learn more online or call Call407-303-2474.