From Abu Dhabi to Boston: Brothers’ bond runs deep through kidney donation

brothersFar from the white beaches and turquoise waters of the Persian Gulf, a mother stands in a sea of people, arms wrapped around her sons, as a wave of passengers click the handles of their carry-ons, wheeling them toward their destinations.

Saleema Al Shukri has just arrived at Logan Airport from Abu Dhabi.

It has been six long months since she has seen her sons Saeed, 16, and Ahmed, 23, and her husband Fadel, all of whom temporarily relocated to Boston to begin a journey of hope and healing, while Saleema remained at home to care for the rest of the family.

Two years earlier, at the age of 14, Saeed was diagnosed with kidney dysplasia, a condition that results from the malformation of the kidney during fetal development. While Saeed had remained relatively well his entire life, his doctors in Abu Dhabi noticed that his blood levels started to become abnormal, showing his kidneys were beginning to fail.

Saeed needed a kidney transplant.

A surgery on the other side of the world

Saeed would not just receive any kidney — tests for matching blood types and antigens showed his brother Ahmed was a match — a perfect match — meaning six out of the six antigens were compatible.

“I danced,” says Ahmed. “I danced because I was so happy I could do this for my brother.”

A kidney transplanted from a living donor offers distinct advantages compared to that of a deceased donor. There is a shorter wait time for the recipient, a faster recovery — because in most cases living donor kidneys begin functioning immediately — and there is growing evidence that living donor kidneys last longer.

From the beginning, the Al Shukri family had made up their minds to come to the United States for the transplant surgery. “Even the medical committee in Abu Dhabi preferred that we come here,” says Fadel.

They opted to come to Boston Children’s Hospital, one of the largest pediatric transplant centers with an emphasis on living donor kidney transplants.

Boston Children’s International Health Services helped the family prepare for their move to Boston. And in October, Fadel, Ahmed and Saeed left their home in Abu Dhabi to begin the transplant journey. Over the next couple of months, both Saeed and Ahmed worked with the transplant teams to complete their evaluations. Ahmed would undergo surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital — where adult donor surgeries take place — and Saeed’s transplant would then be performed at Boston Children’s.

I didn’t care about myself. I was just thinking about my brother, about the kidney and if this was going to help him.

With the transplant scheduled in January, there was time for the Al Shukri family to explore Boston. Despite the language barrier and the unprecedented snowfall that crippled the city, Ahmed says he loves Boston. “It is the best city in the United States — with snow or without snow. I like the subway. I like the green line.”

When it came time for surgery, Ahmed embraced it, just as he’d embraced Boston’s record 108.6 inches of snowfall.

“It was my first surgery, so that made me a little nervous. But at that point, I didn’t care about myself. I was just thinking about my brother, about the kidney and if this was going to help him.” — And it did.

‘Alhamdulilah’

Saleema has her boys back, not back home — at least not until June — but back to health. “Saeed is so much better than before,” she says. “I was also very worried about my Ahmed.”

Arabic speakers commonly use the phrase “Alhamdulilah” to thank God for their blessing. It also is used to convey thanks to a person for their help. The Al Shukris say it when they talk about members of the pediatric transplant team at Boston Children’s. And, they say it often.

“We had everything we could possibly need in Abu Dhabi — except the Boston Children’s transplant team,” says Fadel.

Saleema smiles, nods, looks lovingly at her boys, “Alhamdulilah.”

Learn more about the Pediatric Transplant Center.