A Brother’s Enduring Gift of Life
Advocacy Robert M. Tarola reflects on his kidney disease diagnosis, and how his younger brother risked his own health to give him the chance of living a long and fulfilling life.
When I was diagnosed with advanced kidney disease at age 29, it came as a shock. Otherwise healthy and athletic, I had gone to the emergency room experiencing fever and back pain. I was told that within a few years, I would need to start dialysis unless I could find a donor for a kidney transplant.
An uncertain path
This was the early 1980s. Dialysis could keep you alive, but survival rates were not that great, and the treatment was grueling.
Though kidney transplants are no longer rare, at the time, they were still revolutionary. Back then, transplanted kidneys usually lasted only about five years. Nevertheless, my entire family volunteered to get tested.
My father was a good match, but a cyst on his kidney made him ineligible to donate. Gary, my younger brother, was both a close enough match and healthy enough to donate, and in November 1982 we underwent transplant surgery.
To prevent my body from rejecting Gary’s kidney, a fistful of drugs every day keeps my immune system suppressed. Even so, three times in the first five years, my body began rejecting the transplant. But I was fortunate — medication adjustments made it possible for me to keep Gary’s kidney. Now, 36 years later, Gary’s kidney is perfectly at home in my body, filtering my blood and keeping me healthy.
A new chance at life
I am beyond grateful that Gary was willing to donate his kidney to me, even while knowing it might last only five years. Gary’s selfless gift has now given me 36 additional years of life and allowed me to experience the births of my two children and all the milestones in their lives, including walking my daughter down the aisle at her wedding in October.
As a physician, Gary knew that donating his kidney would fix what was wrong with my body. But neither of us could have known that his kidney would keep going for this long — one of the longest-lasting successful transplants in the country.
Today, Gary is healthy as ever and still practicing chiropractic medicine. And I’ve had a full and rewarding career, including my current service as chair on the board for the American Kidney Fund, a nonprofit that fights kidney disease on every front and has helped nearly 1,000 dialysis patients stay insured so they could have transplants this year.
I can never repay Gary for his priceless gift, but every single day, I am thankful that he made the decision to give me life.