Area men get organs from
Easter Sunday, 1989, dawned just like any other Easter,
but before it ended, the lives of three families would be changed
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.