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Living organ donation: A best friend's sacrifice

Posted at 5:47 PM, May 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-07 15:34:51-04

Medical tubes, clamps, and dialysis solution. It was just a snap shot of Robert Glaspy's every day when we first met him in March. He was in a losing battle with a disease called Alport Syndrome.

"It affects your eyesight and your hearing and then eventually puts you into end stage renal failure,” Robert explained.

Doctors actually predicted the disease would attack his kidneys much sooner. But Robert made it to age 25 before needing a kidney transplant.

Enter Billy Gerken.

He too is from the Buffalo area and attended college at the Rochester Institute of Technology, or R.I.T. with Robert. “We were roommates my freshman year and we ended up becoming friends pretty quickly after that,” Billy said. “Rob's one of the most dedicated friends out there. He's a very loyal friend. If you need him for anything, he's always there.”

So it should come as no surprise that Billy immediately wanted to help when he learned Robert’s health was in jeopardy. “I told him like ya know, I'd like to consider donating. I'd like to see if we'd be a potential match."

When asked why, Billy responded, "I have no idea. It just felt right.”

“It's a big decision to make,” expressed Robert’s mom, Barbara. “I mean [Billy's] 21-years-old and this is surgery. He's going to give a part of himself to my son.”

Living organ donors go through a rigorous process to determine whether it's safe to donate. “It's been an insane process. It's just been nonstop testing, poking, prodding,” Billy said. But, eventually doctors determined the two were a match. “I just wanted to say thank you and give him a hug. It meant everything to me,” Robert said.

Kidneys from a deceased donor typically last 10 years but kidneys from a living donor can last twice as long.

So, on March 22nd, the time had come for transplant surgery at ECMC. “You worry not only about your own child, but you worry about their well-being, right? Being a mom, you can't help doing that,” Barbara said before surgery.

Doctors performed a laparoscopic surgery to remove Billy’s left kidney. It's a minimally invasive surgery where doctors use a video camera and several thin instruments instead of creating a large incision.

Dr. Liise Kayler was in charge of removing the kidney and said everything went smoothly. “It was easier than I thought it was going to be.”

“It went well. No problems whatsoever. It was straight forward,” said Dr. Sunil Patel. He was tasked with implanting the new kidney into Robert.

Kidney transplants have about 10% rejection rate but doctors say it's entirely treatable. “As you get further away from surgery, it tends to become less common. The fact that it's working so well, I suspect he won't have any problems,” Patel added.

Billy spent just two days in the hospital. “It really wasn't that bad. I would say that the first night was the only time I had significant pain,” he explained.  Billy’s still tired but feels good otherwise. He's also back to work.

As for Robert, his recovery took slightly longer. “I probably stayed in bed most of the time for probably the first three days.” Robert still can't work for several more months. He also takes roughly 30 pills a day to fight rejection. But otherwise, this transplant survivor said he has his life back. “I got all this energy and I don't know what to do with it and I'm always warm.”

And it's all thanks to his best friend.

“I was always worried what's going to happen? How am I going to get through this? Billy gave me an opportunity to start my life over.”

“This is why it was worth it. This is why it was so important,” Billy concluded.

To donate to Robert’s Go Fund Me page, click here. For more information on organ donation, click here.