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‘Well, if you ever need a kidney, I have two good ones.’: Woman ‘surprises’ best friend by becoming his kidney donor

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“I’ll take you back to January 2011. My best friends decided it was time for me to go out again after having a baby and I was happy to get out for a few hours. We went to see a local band play at a hotel bar and we were having a blast. A few hours go by and my best friend DJ decides it’s time to tell me he was just diagnosed with FSGS kidney disease or Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis (meaning some sections of kidney filters are scarred.) DJ’s mother and uncle have both had kidney transplants but, that won’t be DJ, he’s tough, he can do anything. So after chatting I say to him, ‘Well, if you ever need a kidney, I have two good ones,’ as I point finger guns at him. Oh, but how serious I would be.

Courtesy of Danielle Bryant
Courtesy of Danielle Bryant

Fast forward to 6 years later, September 2017. My best friends (DJ and his wife, Kari) and I haven’t talked in some time, because, well, life. I scroll Facebook and to my horror I see ‘Fundraiser for DJ’s Kidney Transplant.’ UM, his WHAT?! Frantically I start messaging DJ and his wife, ‘I will give you my kidney.’ I’m obviously met with some resistance, ‘No, it’s ok, we have some people willing to donate, you don’t have to do that, blah blah blah…’ No, but I do. You see, I’ve known DJ for the majority of my life and anytime I have ever needed ANYTHING, he’s dropped whatever to be there for me. From fixing my car, to too many drinks and him carrying me to the car to be my DD on my ridiculous 24th birthday. The man has been there people, and so has his wife. There was no way I could allow someone else to give him a kidney if I could do it. I said, ‘No, I’m telling you, it will come from me.’ Now here is where I should probably mention I am very much close with their family, however, my husband of less than a year at the time has never met Kari other than her taking our fabulous family photos, and he has NEVER met DJ. (I said life happened, remember?)

Next frantic TEXT MESSAGE is to my husband. (Classy right?)

Me: ‘Hey, I’m donating my kidney to DJ, Kari’s husband (you know… photo Kari.)’

Justin: ‘Uh… ok…’

Me: ‘You’ll meet him soon but he needs a kidney and I’m giving it to him.’

Justin: ‘…ok’

Ladies and Gentlemen, God bless this man.

Courtesy of Danielle Bryant

About 2 weeks later I take Justin to their house to meet them and their AMAZING kids. On the ride home it’s dead silence. At his point I am panicked. Justin breaks the silence. ‘These are my kind of people.’ Cue sigh of relief. Let’s do this. All summer we spent every Monday night together having family dinners and any other free night we had, which united us in ways that only a transplant could. My daughter and their oldest are the best of friends, and my husband is now best friends with DJ. The bromance is real.

March 12th, 2018, was my first appointment. We are hyped. I should also mention no one in their right mind should ever let DJ and I go anywhere or do anything alone. Chaos and insanity ensue, and we are just two dysfunctional best friends that like to make a scene. And a scene we made. First stop, blood work. 17 tubes. I go lights out. Not sure how long I was out but it was long enough for 2 doctors and 3 nurses to be there when I woke up with a stretcher to take me to the ER where I spent the next 3 hours.

DJ: ‘You know you don’t have to do this anymore.’

Me: ‘Please just stop talking, I’m not going anywhere.’ The man was scared. He just saw his best friend pass out and not wake up for several minutes while people were frantically calling for help. He was carrying my purse (a sight I will never unsee.) The transplant department tells the ER to reschedule me. Great. I hope they got all the blood they would need.

March 26, 2018. My rescheduled appointment. Once again, there we are, making spectacles of ourselves and having the time of our lives while also being extremely hangry. We make it through this appointment and no more blood was needed (Bless). They tell us we will know our results in 7 days. Day 8, I can’t take it anymore. I call every number I have until I am finally met with a voice that can answer me. I will tell you right now I will not get through this next part without sobbing.

Me: ‘Hi, I know I am really annoying but I really want to know if I am a match to donate my kidney?’

Jonathan: ‘This is Danielle, isn’t it?’

Me: (knowing they are clearly still talking about ‘the girl who passed out’): ‘Yes, it’s me.’

Jonathan: ‘Ok, let me see…’


Jonathan: ‘Ok, you have the same blood type so that matches…’

Me: (can’t donate to him without that so we already knew that)…

Jonathan: ‘The antibodies are the main concern…’

Me: …………

Jonathan: ‘Well, it looks like you… are… a match.’

Me: Sobbing. (I hit my knees in my kitchen. Just sobbing)

Jonathan: ‘I will give you a minute… I love giving news to people like you.’

Me: (Still sobbing) ‘Go ahead.’

Jonathan: (all I hear at this point is Charlie Brown’s teacher, he could have told me absolutely anything at this point and I could only hear in my head ‘you’re a match.’)

I hang up from Jonathan and immediately text Kari.

Me: ‘Are you with DJ?’

Kari: ‘No, he’s at work, and I am already crying. (She knew)

Me: ‘No, I just didn’t want to tell you both the same thing is all.’ (obviously lying)

I facetime her. It was written all over my face and we immediately lose it. All of it. We sobbed together without a word for about 10 minutes before we both stopped and said, ‘We have to tell him, tonight. We cannot hold this information from him.’

That night we held a fake photo shoot for my family concealing a sign to surprise DJ that said, ‘I’m a match.’ Guys, I get to save my best friend’s life. DJ was in total shock that I was a match. I mean what are the odds that your best friend gets to give you their kidney and is a perfect match in every way?

Now comes the big stuff. More appointments.

May 29th DJ was added to the UNOS transplant list. He didn’t need it in my mind, but as a precaution he still goes on it.

June 4th I see one of my doctors for a check up to cross that off my list.

June 5th I go to children’s hospital for a 4-hour GFR test to see how well my kidney function is.

June 6th I’m on edge. What if my kidney function is low, what if I have kidney disease and don’t know it? My nurse Holly calls, ‘Hey Danielle, I have your GFR results. Your function/filtration for your age should be around 85-88%. Yours is 99.6.%’ Come again? Ya’ll, I had almost 100% kidney function left.

June 26th DJ is at 16% kidney function and still working full time (told you he’s a beast).

July 10th is my psych evaluation and when I tell you the entire way there DJ is telling me I’m going to fail it, I’m not even kidding. He was joking of course, but we cannot be trusted together, I swear.

July 11th I am approved psychologically, which we still laugh about.

July 17th we get a call to schedule our surgery dates, August 17, 24 or 31. The look on DJ’s face when I FaceTime him to tell him we can schedule surgery is a look I will never forget. Part fear, part relief, part disbelief.

July 18th, we decided on August 24th. (it’s about to get realllllll)

July 23rd I have a CT scan with contrast (my last ever) to pick which kidney they want to take. I say my last ever because once you are down a kidney, you can no longer have contrast because it can send you into renal failure, causing you to need a transplant also.

July 26th I finally get to talk to a donor advocate and I get all of my scary questions answered by the most wonderful person. (I am now a kidney donor advocate so if anyone reading this ever has any questions, hit a girl up.) The same day my surgeon picks my left kidney.

August 13th is pre-op, final blood work (21 tubes AND I DIDN’T PASS OUT!), EKG, Chest X-ray. All systems GO.

August 24th, surgery day. Terrified. I head into surgery feeling good. They go to take me back and I lose it. I start yelling. ‘Where’s DJ?! I CANNOT GO BACK WITHOUT DJ!’ My mom runs from my room emerging with him and Kari. Even more tears. I couldn’t see where I was going or where they were taking me once we got to say ‘see ya after surgery.’ I went and had a nerve block placed into each side of my abdomen and the rest is slightly blurry except on the outside of the OR doors when they said, ‘Are you ready?’ And I responded with, ‘Let’s do this.’

I woke up roughly 5ish hours later and just wanted to see my husband. I remember begging them to take me from recovery and they did. Everyone cried when they saw me, but I was still feeling pretty great. Kari walked in after my parents and husband and a few tears were shed. The next evening is a blur between blood draws and medications and machine beeps. The next morning the pain hit and although it was my worst day, I still said I would do it again. My best friend in all his glory, made it down the hall to see me. He beat me to it, what else is new? The next and final day is Sunday. I finally get to eat, I refused all pain meds Saturday at noon and was surviving off of Tylenol and I FINALLY, FINALLY, made it to walk and see my best friend.

Courtesy of Danielle Bryant

Leaving him to go home sucked, I won’t lie and say my bed wasn’t the most glorious sight, but I hated knowing he was there another day. We FaceTimed. A LOT. Over the course of surgery weekend and the next two weeks I would say we FaceTimed probably 100 times. DJ felt great about two weeks after, some medication hiccups to get used to, but overall way better shape than me, which was expected. I thought for sure after week 3 that I would literally never get better or walk upright again LOL.

September 10th was my first post-op appointment. They cleared me to drink a beer. (My husband’s face lit up because if I can’t drink, neither can he and it was Steelers season.)

Courtesy of Danielle Bryant

September 14th DJ and Kari welcomed their 3rd bundle of joy into the world, and first-born son. Oh, did I forget to mention Kari was pregnant throughout this ENTIRE process? Talk about a rockstar. Held down the fort, 2 kids, pregnant AND went through her husband’s transplant like a boss. Not only did she take care of her household, she took care of mine as well. (I had a 7-year-old and 3 days after I got home from the hospital we welcomed a 15-year-old foreign exchange student from Germany to live with us for the school year.) This woman is a SAINT.

November 4th. I got to walk beside my best friend with our spouses, children, family and friends in the National Kidney Foundation Kidney Walk at the Pittsburgh Zoo. To say I was emotional is an understatement. The walk started and DJ and I linked arms and looked around at the THOUSANDS of people either needing a kidney, were sick, healthy, thriving, and every other aspect of Kidney Disease. We then looked at each other. I said, ‘We made it.’ No words were needed after that as tears were shed and we had the best day surrounded by love and support.

Courtesy of Danielle Bryant
Courtesy of Danielle Bryant

Next came Valentine’s Day. February 14th is also National Donor Day, which makes so much sense as it’s the day of love. We got to tell a little of our story and I got to thank the people that supported me and helped us all through this process. We each had our 6-month appointment in February and we found out his kidney function is now 60%. 60. Up just a tad from the day of surgery when it was a measly 11%. My labs came back and my nephrologist told me, ‘If I didn’t know, I would have no idea you were missing a kidney.’ Our labs are consistently improving and life is so good.

We have come so far in this past year and I cannot wait to celebrate our ‘kidneyversary’ on August 24th this year. This was one of the most rewarding experiences of my entire life and even on the hard days, a million times over, I would do it again tomorrow. What do you do when your best friend needs a kidney? You give him one. Share your spare.â€

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Danielle Bryant of Greensburg, Pennsylvania. You can follow her journey on Instagram

Courtesy of Danielle Bryant

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