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In addition to being relatives, Susie Percy, her brother Paul Bears, Jr., her father Paul Bears, Sr. and his brother-in-law Bill Cashell all have one thing in common — they each have one kidney.
“Kidney donation is a family affair,” says Susie.
Thirty-four years ago, Bill Cashell gave a kidney to his son Sean, who was born with a rare genetic condition called Alport syndrome. Eleven years later, when Sean needed a new kidney, his Uncle Paul, Sr. stepped forward. And nine years after that, when Sean was experiencing rejection, Paul Jr. offered to donate to his cousin.
Fast forward 14 years.
It is late in the evening on June 14, 2015. Kern Tyler and his wife Pasina Mazoka-Tyler sit in a waiting room at Boston Children’s Hospital, while their 11-month-old son Malambo Mazoka-Tyler, born with a life-threatening disease called biliary atresia, undergoes a liver transplant.
To arrive at this moment, they have traveled vast distances, visited multiple hospitals, sought the advice and counsel of numerous doctors, packed all their belongings and moved more than 7000 miles from their home in Zambia, Africa, to Boston, Massachusetts.
He had picked out what he wanted to wear, where he wanted to be buried, and he told me, ‘My soul is all I have left. If I don’t have a liver, I am going to die.’
Yet, they call this journey a blessing.
In the same room, a family from Maine patiently waits, while their son is prepped for his liver transplant.
Born with cystic fibrosis, 18-year-old Brent Groder is battling end-stage liver disease. Just two months earlier, he was planning his funeral, recalls his mom Charlene Newhall. “He had picked out what he wanted to wear, where he wanted to be buried, and he told me, ‘My soul is all I have left. If I don’t have a liver, I am going to die.’” …
His symptoms started two years ago while on a family vacation. Thirteen-year-old Manuel Sanchez Paniagua was increasingly tired, and his stomach hurt. His parents thought he must have caught a stomach bug on the trip, so when they got back to their home in Mexico City, they brought Manuel to the doctor. Unfortunately, it wasn’t just a stomach bug.
Physicians told the family that Manuel had a rare cancerous tumor in his liver called hepatoblastoma. When they went in to biopsy the tumor to confirm the diagnosis, they accidentally caused severe internal bleeding, and Manuel ended up in the ICU for a week.
A second opinion
Once he recovered from the biopsy, Manuel began chemotherapy for the tumor. A month later when the tumor had not shrunk as expected, Manuel’s parents decided it was time to get a second opinion, but from where?
“In Mexico, you ask around for the best hospital in the world, and the aunt of the friend of the cousin of the brother knows,” laughs Manuel’s father, Hector Sanchez Castillo. On the advice of the “aunt of the friend of the cousin of his brother,” Hector called Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center and spoke to Dr. Carlos Rodriguez-Galindo. “He told us that the tumor was not the one that we thought it was—it was worse. There are bad tumors, and there are really bad tumors. This was one of the really bad ones.” …
When Dillon McCarty was 13, he received a very special gift from his stepfather Nicholas Gula—a new kidney.
But Gula, 34, didn’t donate his kidney to Dillon. Instead, he gave it to a stranger, a 29-year-old man also in need of a kidney transplant in Atlanta. And in return, the man’s wife gave her kidney to Dillon.
The carefully choreographed “operation” involved two selfless donors, two flights, two states, three hospitals and four surgeries—more than one thousand miles apart—inexplicably tying two families.
“It was a dream,” says Gula. “I was saving two lives. Words can’t even express how I felt.”
The reason for the kidney swap was simple. To be a match, a donor’s blood type and antibody testing must be compatible with the recipient. Dillon had relatives—including his stepfather—who were willing to donate, but those donors were incompatible. Only his mother Samantha McCarty was a match, but not one that would work for Dillon. …