My Journey through Living Donation

By: Justin Reed

This time two years ago, we received the long-awaited news that my father was approved for a kidney transplant. The journey to this point was a defining moment for our family and for me as I learned about living donor organ transplant and became a two-time donor.

My father had been sick for the prior year and by 2015 he was in renal failure. Dad needed a transplant.

Who is Roger Reed? To the general public, he was just another person on the waiting list – a number. To his family, he was our foundation. To his very core, he defined selflessness. I know how to be a man, and the importance of self-sacrifice by following his footsteps. My fondest memory of my father was seeing him pull my coach to the side and slip money in his jacket. He had noticed a kid on our basketball team with shoes that did not match the rest of his teammates. The family had fallen on hard times, and didn’t have the money to buy the school’s shoes. No one else would ever know his act of kindness as he swore the coach to secrecy. These noble acts would continue throughout my childhood.

How could a man who has given everything to others his entire life be burdened with kidney failure? But as he had done with everything else in life, my father took the unfortunate news with poise and was more concerned about a minor cold my mom was dealing with at the time.

When I decided to donate one of my kidneys to him, my dad resisted. He wanted to go on the waiting list, and felt it would be too much of a burden on me and my incredible wife. There was no decision to be made on our part – we were going to donate my kidney to him. When we informed him that with a living donation he could help someone else move up on the waiting list, he finally, reluctantly complied.

transplantWe went to two transplant centers. This journey would take us through some murky times. After spending several months at both transplant centers for testing, we were no closer to getting dad a kidney. One of the transplant facilities felt it was too risky and the other wanted to wait several months. It felt as if the world had come to a standstill. Both of my parents were exhausted and the news had crippled their hopes. At the same time dad’s condition worsened and, for the first time on this journey, I felt despair.

We immediately contacted dad’s nephrologist and begged for one last referral. We knew that based on the other transplant facilities feeling there was too much risk, we needed to reach out to UPMC. If anything positive was going to happen, it was going to happen there. The Thomas Starzl Transplant Institute and its incredible staff guided us through every possible obstacle and let us know that a transplant was not only possible at UPMC for my dad, they reassured us he was going to be okay.

Enter my second hero, Dr. Amit Tevar. He reassured my mother, my father, and my wife that we were going to get through this. He answered all of our questions and, for the first time in a long time, we all felt heard. The greatest feeling in my life was waking up from surgery and walking over to sit by my father’s side, knowing he was on track to feeling better and getting back to life. The world is a much better place with him in it, and UPMC gave us that opportunity.

What prompted my decision to donate a portion of my liver to a stranger a year later? Humanity. Just as my father has done throughout his life, I wanted to help others.

Through the transplant process I experienced with my father, I found that so many stories were not being told. There are so many families living in fear each day that a loved one will not receive the needed transplant in time to save their life. With the kidney, there are alternatives; while on the waiting list for a kidney, dialysis is an option. With the liver, the options are diminished.

I am often asked why I donated twice. My response is the same each time, “Why not?” We have a saying where I come from, “Ut Prosim.” This is Latin for, “That I may serve”. What better way to serve than to help humanity with the gift of life?

When I donated my kidney, I met a hero that I placed on the same plateau as my father. Dr. Tevar is in my thoughts daily. During my liver donation, I had the rare honor of meeting yet another hero, Dr. Abhinav Humar. The dictionary defines angel as, “A person of exemplary conduct or virtue.” These three extraordinary gentleman are angels and represent the best of humanity.

My journey is only starting. I hope that I am able to continue to offer my vessel to help others in need. As one of my favorite poets, Aeschylus, once wrote: “Tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.” The world needs more compassion toward one another, and I will dedicate my life to bringing awareness to stopping the wait.

We can help each other, and have a moral obligation to represent the best in human spirit. I learned moral obligation at a young age when a man made sure a kid didn’t have to feel embarrassed over his shoes. That man is able to tell his story because of living organ donation. Let us all dedicate ourselves to that.