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Kidney Recipients “Blood Brothers”

by Janet Nesler

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Area men get organs from same donor

 

Easter Sunday, 1989, dawned just like any other Easter, but before it ended, the lives of three families would be changed forever.

One family lost a son in a car accident; his kidneys had been on a donor list.  The men in the two other families had been on dialysis for two years, each with his name on a cadaver list for a new kidney.

One of these men was my husband, Charles (Chuck) Nesler of Sciotoville.

For two years, Chuck had been on CAPD dialysis, a method in which fluid from a suspended bag on an IV pole is drained into the peritoneal cavity (abdomen) while another bag collects the old fluid.  This must be done at least three times a day.

At 11 p.m. that Easter Sunday, the cadaver unit of Columbus University Hospital called to tell us a kidney was available, and Chuck’s long wait was over.  For two years we had kept a bag packed so when the call came we could make a faster exit.  Now we had two hours to get to the hospital, where a six to eight battery of tests for compatibility would be conducted.

Near Columbus, we heard on a local radio news broadcast that a 24- year- old man had been involved in a car accident and declared dead of head injuries on arrival at the hospital.  We didn’t realize it at the time, but this young man was the kidney donor.

A second man received the same call at 11 p.m. that night.  Bill Cassady of Inez, Kentucky, who became the recipient of the young man’s other kidney, also had to make the trip to Columbus in as short a time as possible.  He and his wife, Donna, grabbed the suitcase they had kept packed and started out for Columbus.

More commonly known as Billy Ray in his home area, Bill is a former basketball player and coach and was accustomed to a far more active life than his illness allowed.  He’d played on the Inez High School team that had won the State Championship in 1954 and had played on the University of Kentucky team that had won the National Championship in 1958, and coached at Louisa, Paintsville and Inez.

At 4 a.m., Donna and I met in the hospital waiting room while our husbands were being tested for donor match of the kidneys.  Both were compatible and the six-hour surgeries began at 1:30 p.m. the following day.

Donna and I got acquainted during those long hours of waiting.  One thing we both agreed on was that this was the longest night and day of our lives—32 hours without sleep.

For the 24 hours after surgery, each man had a team of nurses around the men’s beds with constant vigilance.  Donna and I spent a lot of time together keeping each other’s hopes up, our common fear that of organ rejection.

From our time spent together and this common bond developed a lasting friendship, akin to that Bill and Chuck developed before leaving the hospital.  They call themselves “blood brothers” because the both received their kidneys from the same donor.

Donna and I wrote letters and called each other often until time for the men’s six-week checkup, then made arrangements for adjoining rooms at a motel near the hospital the night before the checkup.

While the two men were seeing the doctors, we women compared how our lives had changed since both men had been given the gift of renewed life.  They had progressed from yellow eyes and gray pallor skin to color in their faces and a healthy look in their eyes.  Chuck and Bill talked about how great it was to be able to go where they wanted, when they wanted and to physically feel like doing it.

They talked; too, of the freedom their transplants had given them.  “I had just about come to the end of my endurance,” Bill said.  “Making the 45 minute trip to Prestonsburg from Inez, then looking up to a dialysis machine for six hours, then 45 minutes back was physically draining.  This happened three times a week for 18 months.

“I would love to meet the family of the donor so I could say thank you.  Getting a new kidney makes you appreciate life more than ever.  It means a lot to know someone out there donated a kidney so I could live.”

The day after Bill’s transplant in Ohio, his family received a call from the medical center at University of Kentucky.  They also had an available kidney.

“A Columbus University Hospital doctor said, “Somebody up there is looking out for you; to be called twice in one week for a kidney is almost impossible,” Bill said.

Chuck also reveled in the sense of a new kidney.  “The difference between being on dialysis and having a kidney is truly amazing,” he said.  “On dialysis you feel really rundown and every move is an effort.  It takes a lot of willpower to keep going.  For any one who needs a kidney, I would strongly recommend getting your name on the cadaver list.

“But everyone is different and some have more rejection episodes.  I feel fortunate I have not had any.”

Unlike Bill, Chuck doesn’t want to meet the family of the donor, although he is very thankful for the donated kidney.  He says it would probably be too emotional for him and the donor’s family to handle.

In the past six years, the friendship that began in a hospital waiting room has flourished.  We get together every few months for lunch in Ashland and shopping at the mall.

The men usually find a bench, and Bill relates tales of his latest fishing trip.  He still relishes being able to just hook up his boat and go whenever he wants.

Even during personal dilemmas, we continue to meet.  When Chuck was on crutches after a hip replacement and during Bill’s recovery from cataract surgery when he could hardly see.

During these visits, the “blood brothers” continue to find out how much they have in common.  Our marriages were the same year and only five days apart.

Chuck attended Prestonsburg High School at the same time Bill attended Inez High School, and their ball teams played each other.

Each March when the men go back to Columbus for annual check-ups on the anniversary of their transplants, we reserve rooms as we did in the early post-surgery days.  We spend the evening catching up on each other’s lives, and then go together to the hospital clinic.

We’ve just celebrated the sixth anniversary of the transplants and our friendship.  Whatever the future may bring from the donor’s gift, his family’s generosity in donating his kidneys has given all of us a more meaningful life and a very unique and special friendship.

 

 

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