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Rachelle and Mike Thomas: Living-Donor Kidney Transplant Patient Story

Rachelle and Mike Thomas: Living-Donor Kidney Transplant Patient Story | UPMC

The Challenge: Glomerulonephritis and Hepatitis C

When doctors diagnosed Mike Thomas with glomerulonephritis, he had no idea it would one day lead to three different transplants. Glomerulonephritis is a disease that prevents the kidney from filtering blood and often leads to kidney failure.

Mike ended up on the kidney transplant waiting list, for the first time, in 2005. That's when he learned about living donation.

But before he could pursue this life-saving kidney transplant, he would need to find a willing living donor.

Thankfully, Mike’s brother-in-law, John, offered to be his living-kidney donor.

John had a thorough kidney donor exam and learned he was a good match for Mike. Their living-donor kidney transplant was a success.

But shortly after the transplant, Mike learned he had hepatitis C, which caused problems with his liver function.

After a decade of suffering from hepatitis, Mike needed a liver transplant.

Once again stepping up in Mike’s time of need, John offered to donate part of his liver, but Mike told him no.

“I didn’t want him to go through that a second time,” Mike said. “I stopped him from donating, but that almost cost me my life.”

Mike spent nearly two months in the hospital because of severe liver damage. During that time, his transplanted kidney struggled to keep up with his poor liver function.

His doctors assured him that once he received a liver transplant, his kidney function would go back to normal.

Mike began dialysis until he had his second transplant, deceased-donor liver transplant.

The Path to Living-Kidney Donation at UPMC

Two transplants later, Mike’s health was back to normal.

But with his health history, he knew he would need another kidney transplant sooner than usual. He just didn’t know when.

The doctors kept a close eye on Mike’s kidney function, and finally, the time came that he needed his third transplant.

After spending so much time in the hospital waiting for a liver, Mike wanted to be proactive. He needed to find himself a living-kidney donor.

The Solution: A Third Transplant

When Mike needed his first transplant, his wife, Rachelle, wanted to do all she could to help. But with three young children at home, they felt it was best to find someone else to be his living donor.

Now that their kids were older and Mike needed another kidney transplant, Rachelle finally had the chance to be his donor.

She went through the evaluation process and found out she was a suitable match for Mike.

“I always knew I would be his spare,” Rachelle joked, “I carried his kidney for 13 years until he needed it.”

During their living-donor kidney transplant, the surgeon laparoscopically removed one of Rachelle’s healthy kidneys and placed it into Mike’s body.

Mike woke up with a fully functioning kidney and a healthy future.

The Results: Another Chance

Mike and Rachelle had a team of family members helping them through the healing process. But after only a week at home, they managed to complete basic tasks — like getting dressed and showering — all on their own.

A major part of their successful recovery was doing all they could to be as healthy as possible before the transplant. They prepared the way you would for a marathon: exercising often and eating healthy meals.

“Compared to Mike’s recovery from the first two transplants, being active and healthy before this transplant helped him recover faster,” Rachelle said.

Now, both Rachelle and Mike spend their time educating others about living donation and trying to raise awareness of this life-saving procedure. They are passionate advocates because Mike has benefited from not just one living-donor surgery, but two.

“I look back at when my brother-in-law donated the first time when our kids were so young. I think about what would’ve happened if he didn’t,” Rachelle said. “We are so lucky and blessed that John stepped up and gave Mike those 13 years with our kids.”

Having received three transplants over the course of his life, Mike is in a unique spot. It’s impossible for him to express how grateful he is. He’s thankful for every person who played a role in his transplant journey, from the donors to the UPMC transplant team.

“There are a lot of good people out there,” Mike said. “I feel truly blessed to be involved with living donation at UPMC.”

Mike and Rachelle’s treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.

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