I followed the doctor into the hallway. I didn’t want my dad to hear the answer I was afraid of, “No…sorry…Mr. Horner is not a candidate for a transplant.”
Let me back up. We forced Dad to come to the ER more than three weeks ago, convinced he was in heart failure. He has a history of heart problems and was swollen and lethargic. During his stay, we learned what was giving his heart such a hard time: stage five kidney disease. That knocked me out. I knew about his heart and I knew he wasn’t managing his diabetes, but I had no idea he had blown past four stages of a disease he didn’t know he had. The plan was to start dialysis in the hospital and once released, he would go in three days a week.
Stealing an extra moment of the doctor’s time in the hallway, I asked, “Does he need a kidney transplant? Is that something that may be in the future?”
The doctor checked his notes and seemed surprised to learn that Dad was only 63 years old. His frail state coupled with a large white beard made him appear much older.
“Why yes, your father should be a good candidate for transplant. The sooner, the better.”
That answer changed everything for us. I had thought that a transplant was a last course of action after dialysis treatments had been exhausted. But a kidney transplant, especially from a living donor, is closer to a frontline of defense than I thought.
This knowledge forced to the forefront something that had been tumbling around in my head for the past week — I was going to give my dad a kidney. Sure, I discussed it with my wife and I put in the necessary time mulling it over, but in all honesty, I made the decision right there in that moment. I should note, my wife was incredibly supportive. She even decided she, too, was willing to donate a kidney to her father-in-law. If things didn’t work out for me, she was ready to be next on deck.
While I came to the decision quickly, convincing my dad took a little more effort. I called him (he had been released by this point) armed with all the statistics the internet could offer about the benefits of kidney donation. He was naturally worried about me. What if something went wrong? What if something happened to my remaining kidney? What if my own children needed my kidney, instead, someday? Valid concerns, but I eventually convinced him to at least get some more information, run a few tests and just see what our options were. What followed was a lengthy process. He had rounds of meetings and tests that took a few months. In the meantime, my wife and I filled out our applications to be kidney donors.
My first email from my donor coordinator had some not great news for me: I needed to lose weight.
Part of the eligibility criteria to be an organ donor is a BMI of 30 or under and for me, that meant getting under 214 pounds. When my dad went into the hospital over the summer, I weighed over 240 pounds. Seeing what diabetes was doing to his body was enough for me to start turning my own health around and start making better choices. I had lost some weight when I got that email in the fall but was still 15 pounds from where I needed to be.
Losing weight is hard. I did a number of things. I cut my carbs, I tried intermittent fasting and I completely cut out my multiple-soda-a-day habit. It was like throwing spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks. It was an up and down battle — lose a few pounds, slip on the diet and gain them back. Then repeat.
But there was a date looming and a weight I had to reach. If you need weight loss motivation, just have a loved one’s life hang in the balance. I’m telling you, it works.
I reached my goal, only to get more bad news. My liver seemed to be a little enlarged and doctors were concerned that just meeting the BMI requirement might not be enough. My new goal was to get under 200 pounds. That felt particularly daunting given my celebratory BBQ lunch after my weigh-in and testing had probably added a couple pounds back. Worse yet, I worried that delaying the surgery while I lost the weight would be hard on my dad. He wasn’t at death’s door or anything, but “the sooner, the better” is what the doctor had said.
So, I went back to work. I started working out every day despite the unfortunate timing of Thanksgiving and the Christmas season, and I continued losing weight. By surgery day, I was 192 pounds. I had lost almost 50 pounds and I felt better than any other time in my adult life. I should also note that Dad lost over 60 pounds leading up to the surgery. He completely turned his eating habits around and got control over his diabetes.
For the both of us, this kidney transplant was the start of our journey toward better health. I was able to give my dad a kidney knowing that I had made the changes necessary to ensure my long-term health, and that he had done the same to make sure my kidney would be well taken care of.
For the both of us, this kidney transplant was the start of our journey toward better health.
The team at Baylor Scott & White did a marvelous job. At least, I assume it was marvelous. I’ve never given a kidney before and don’t have a point of comparison, but Dad and I are alive and making a full recovery, so you can’t ask for much more than that. We now have a healthier future ahead of us and a fresh perspective on life. I think I can speak for both of us when I say we’ll never take our health for granted again.
Being an organ donor is an incredible honor, but don’t take my word for it. Explore living kidney donation today.
This blog post was written by Chance Horner. Subscribe to read more inspiring stories like Chance’s.