Ja’Niece DeCay promised to love her husband through sickness and in health. What she didn’t realize was that one day she would offer an even greater sacrifice to her husband’s brother — her own kidney.
The search for a lifesaving kidney
Kenny DeCay was encouraged to get tested for kidney disease after his twin brother was diagnosed with lupus nephritis, a genetic kidney disease, and received a living donor kidney transplant at Baylor University Medical Center, part of Baylor Scott & White Health.
At only 43 years old, Kenny was also diagnosed with kidney disease. He needed a kidney, or he would face dialysis. Once Kenny was put on the transplant list, he realized it could be three to five years before he received a new kidney — and in the meantime, his kidney would continue to deteriorate.
“I felt very blessed to see everyone come out in support and get tested to see if they were a match,” Kenny said. “It was eye-opening that people were willing to give a part of themselves to me.”
To avoid dialysis, he was going to have to go out and find his own kidney.
“I wanted to delay the possibility of transplant for as long as possible,” Kenny said. “Despite treatment with my nephrologist and my dedication to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, the possibility of dialysis was looming. I knew that the line for a kidney is forever, so I started looking for possible donors.”
He put a call out to his fraternity brothers (Kappa Alpha Psi), colleagues and friends, while his mother started reaching out to family members.
“I felt very blessed to see everyone come out in support and get tested to see if they were a match,” Kenny said. “It was eye-opening that people were willing to give a part of themselves to me. This just echoes who you truly to your core. Even if they weren’t a match, many of my friends found it beneficial to better understand the function of their own kidney.”
After searching his network of family and friends, the best donor match turned out to be a family member that he didn’t expect. Ja’Niece, the wife of Kenny’s older brother, heard that Kenny needed a new kidney from her mother-in-law. Her husband had recently had a heart attack and couldn’t donate, so Ja’Niece decided to get tested.
“I really never imagined that I would be a match since I’m not a blood relative,” Ja’Niece said. “Once I found out that I was a match, it was without a question. I would not have not done it. I always thought I would be a donor one day but never imagined I could be a living donor. Being able to do this for a family member made me feel stronger in my faith — serving others is always a priority for me.”
The power of living organ donation
Kenny’s transplant marked a milestone 1,000th living donor kidney transplant for Baylor University Medical Center since the program’s start in 1985.
Living organs are preferred to deceased organs, said Steven Hays, MD, medical director of the Baylor Scott & White living donor kidney program.
“Kidneys from living donors last longer than those from deceased donors,” he said. “They also function faster and have lower rejection rates, which can decrease hospital length of stay. Many of the living donors that we see are family members donating to one another.”
According to Giuliano Testa, MD, FACS, MBA, surgical chief of abdominal transplantation at Baylor University Medical Center, a kidney from a living donor is typically the best quality kidney. The same goes for living donor liver transplants.
“It begins to function more quickly after transplant and lasts significantly longer than kidneys from diseased donors,” Dr. Testa said. “Mr. DeCay’s new kidney started working immediately after transplant.”
Dr. Testa said he believes donating an organ is one of the greatest displays of love, and Kenny would have to agree.
“This was a truly life changing experience,” Kenny said. “I had this traumatic experience where I was progressively getting worse and worse and truly had to put my life on hold. It’s amazing to feel like I finally have my life back and I have my sister-in-law and the entire transplant team at Baylor University Medical Center to thank for that.”