One Kidney, Two Lives

Kyle-Anderson2

Kyle Anderson wasn’t planning on being an organ donor. He jokes that he still isn’t listed as one on his driver’s license, but perhaps he should be. Even if he is short one kidney.

A mechanic and technician for the University Unions, Anderson knew someone who had donated his kidney to a minister at church. The idea was fresh on his mind when he heard that Javier Castillo, a minister at his church, needed a kidney transplant. He decided to get tested to see if he was a match.

Castillo remembers it as the best phone call he ever received—or missed, actually. He was sitting in his car after a visit to the transplant center when he realized he redialed the number. After nearly a dozen calls from friends apologizing that they weren’t a match, Castillo wasn’t expecting much.

“It was hard to believe at first,” Castillo says. “It was the phone call that saved my life. Out of all people, it was Kyle—the quietest guy out there; but he’s ready, he’s not scared.”

Anderson and Castillo had recently gotten to know each other when Castillo donated jump-houses from his rental business to a cancer fundraiser Anderson hosted for a friend. When Anderson proved to be the match, he says Castillo kept asking him why he would donate.

“I told him, ‘The world is better with you in it and the church needs more people like you,’” Anderson says. “I can’t repay financially all the blessings I’ve had in my life, but this is something I can do.”

Though transplants are paid for by the recipient, Anderson and his wife Brigid still had to figure out if they could afford his time off work. During a late-night talk, they decided to move forward and accept the financial hit.

“I thought maybe I could get some donated sick leave,” he says. “There was never a doubt I would donate, we just weren’t sure how to afford it.”

The next day, Anderson found a note at work from his boss explaining UT’s organ donation leave program, something Anderson didn’t even realize existed.

“That’s how supportive [the university] was,” he says. “I never had to go ask, they came to me.”

All Texas state employees are provided 30 days of paid leave to donate an organ. UT Human Resources director Adrienne Howarth-­Moore says she’s overseen leave and benefits for four years and has seen “maybe two or three” requests for organ donation leave.

“It’s not highly utilized,” she says. “But it’s an excellent program. [Donating] is a difficult decision to make in the first place, and this makes just one less hurdle.”

IMG_1513Anderson recalls feeling “scatterbrained” throughout the entire process, so one less hurdle was a relief. He says he commonly hears concerns that donating is dangerous for the donor, but says nothing has changed in the way of diet or exercise. “Although I don’t feel like going for a run just yet,” he jokes. Anderson has to nix just one medication—ibuprofen—from his life, though Castillo will have to add one, an anti-rejection medicine he’ll take for the rest of his life to ensure the donated kidney continues to take.

According to DaVita Kidney Care, about one in every 750 people is born with only one kidney, and many more have two but only one is functioning. Donors are screened to ensure both kidneys fully function.

Castillo had been diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease (PKD) eight years ago, but it took a sudden turn for the worse in the spring. PKD can cause cysts to grow on kidneys and swell them, causing damage to other organs and chronic pain, often leading to kidney failure.

On September 18, both men underwent surgery at the Texas Transplant Institute in San Antonio. Three hours later, Castillo had a new kidney.

“Some people think it takes two kidneys to save a life,” Castillo says. “But it doesn’t. It only takes one person to save one life.”

Castillo says he feels the biggest challenge in finding donors is the lack of education. He plans to become an advocate for organ donation in Hispanic culture, where he says donation is often considered taboo.

In the U.S., there are more than 100,000 people waiting for kidney transplants, according to the National Kidney Foundation. And about 12 die each day without a transplant.

“I saw a jar in the store collecting money for a little girl needing a donor,” Castillo says. “How many people will see that but never do anything because they’re afraid?”

Anderson says he realizes donation is not for everyone, though.

“There was an entire psychological evaluation,” he says. “They ask you stuff like, ‘Would you become depressed if the organ doesn’t take in the recipient and now your organ is dead?’ It’s a serious question, but does that mean you don’t try?”

Castillo says the two have grown much closer since the transplant. Anderson accompanied Castillo to his removal surgery for his old kidneys on December 3, after the new kidney proved to be working properly. The two even celebrated their birthdays (only 12 days apart) together.

“You never get to value life until your life has been threatened,” Castillo says. “You have an opportunity to live after that. I don’t want to live just to take up oxygen. I want to live to give.”

Photos courtesy Kyle Anderson.

 

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