For TJ, what was thought to be typical “growing pains” turned out to be so much more. At the age of 16, his driver’s license physical revealed he had kidney disease that likely stemmed from having diabetes longer than he originally thought. TJ later was introduced to his nephrologist and was, in his words, “coasting” until life threw him another curveball.
“My kidneys functioned OK, but we knew there was a chance of a transplant at some point. Around 2012, I had a mild heart attack. I was very overweight so I began eating better and two years later, decided to have gastric bypass surgery and lost 100 pounds.”
As a result, his (kidney function) numbers got better, but eventually they dropped dangerously low and he went on dialysis. He knew he wanted a living donor since their organs last longer and given his health history. Through several connections and ongoing efforts to locate a donor, there were highs and lows.
“A lot of people were interested in helping me. I pushed my story in the media and promoted TJ's Kidney Crusade in an effort to find my donor and organs for others. I wanted to help people like me.”
Yet, it seemed TJ and his family would take two steps forward only to find themselves taking four steps back. Whether the donor was rejected for their own health reasons or later on the donor chain was broken due to TJ’s new medical hurdles, which included surgery for a cyst on his stomach, and later needing a heart catheterization; thereby, putting him on hold from being placed in the paired exchange database, he didn’t give up.
“Rebecca Shannon from my high school wanted to donate to me. She was someone I knew, but we weren’t real close friends. I was friends with her sister in school. Although we were cleared as a match after tons of testing, we learned her kidneys were too small for me. Still, she went through with the exchange and helped someone else. That was her way of helping me.”
That choice absolutely helped – not only the anonymous recipient, but also TJ, because it gave him priority in the paired exchange database. In March, he was placed within a different donor chain because of Rebecca’s sacrifice and on March 19, 2019, he received his new kidney.
Married 12 years with a son, 7, and daughter, 3, TJ and his wife, Rachel, are amazed by the outpouring of the meals, gift cards, phone calls, and visits they received. As a result of his media exposure and crusade, TJ learned more than 30 strangers offered to be tested. The sense of community and selflessness of so many humbles him to this day, along with the compassion from his medical team.
But for TJ, there is no other place he would rather be than alongside his wife and children. He has returned to the gym and plays basketball with his son, as well as coaches his son’s different sports teams.
“I have so much more energy now and I have a new lease on life.”
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