A Marvelous Gift: The Kidney Transplant Story of Two Friends

David and Dayna in the recovery roomWhen David and Dayna first met more than 40 years ago, they would not have predicted they would build a friendship that would last for decades and lead to Dayna donating her kidney to David.

As a student at the University of California, Berkeley in 1978, David put an ad in the local paper for a fellow student interested in relaunching the long-dormant Berkeley chapter of a global student organization. Dayna answered, and together with a team they recruited, founded and led AIESEC Berkeley, spending hours around a table as partners.

“We are so different, but we got along then, and we get along now,” said Dayna.

“We’re complementary,” said David.

They stayed in touch as their lives diverged in the following years. David pursued a career in corporate strategy, extensively traveled internationally for work and fun, married, and raised two sons. Today, he resides in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Meanwhile, Dayna worked in hospitality technology for several decades before co-founding 5thGenWireless, a boutique strategic consultancy specializing in emerging technology in hospitality and health care. When she’s not globe-hopping for work and fun, she enjoys spending time at home in Paradise Valley, Arizona, with her three pugs and staying in touch with her many godchildren.

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National Kidney Registry

“I felt so lucky to be receiving this gift of life from Dayna and be in the capable hands of such an expert transplant team.”

David | Kidney Transplant Recipient

Starting the Kidney Transplant Process

David’s kidney health began to regress rapidly in 2018, a side effect of cancer treatments that took place 15 years earlier, and the decline accelerated despite various therapies. By late 2019, his nephrologist broached the topic of transplantation. David’s initial response was to pause and consider the idea. “But soon after that, I was staring dialysis in the face, and I asked to be referred to the transplant division at the University of California, San Francisco,” he said.

In the spring of 2020, the pandemic was upon us, and David was concerned about the timeline for getting a kidney transplant. At many hospitals around the nation, intensive care units were filling up with COVID-19 patients and elective procedures were suspended. The waiting list for a deceased donor transplant could be many years, and he hadn’t reached out for a living donor.

Meanwhile, David made dietary changes and fortunately was able to delay the need for dialysis while preparing for a kidney transplant.

When he shared the news with Dayna that he was starting the transplant process, her immediate reply was, “I’ll do it! I’ll donate my kidney!”

“It was the last thing I expected,” said David, particularly since he didn’t even ask her to consider donating.

His wife, Judy, had volunteered to be a donor, as did a family member and another close friend. Unfortunately, these potential donors were ruled out by David’s clinical team. He had counted on his wife being able to donate, and “there was no plan B.” They simply had to hope that Dayna was compatible.

 

Know the Requirements to Be a Living Donor

As a living donor candidate, your clinical team will ask you to undergo a number of health screening tests and compatibility tests. These tests may include:

  • Blood typing
  • HLA typing (blood test)
  • Health history and family medical history
  • Physical exam
  • Chest X-ray
  • Electrocardiogram
  • Radiological testing for kidney health
  • Urine testing for kidney function
  • Gynecological exam (female donors)
  • Mammography (female donors)
  • Cancer screening (various)

For more information on these tests and living donation evaluation, please visit the National Kidney Foundation.

Want to Show Your Support?

If you’ve been inspired by David and Dayna’s story, please visit the National Kidney Registry (NKR) for more information about living donation. The NKR coordinates various forms of donation, including paired and chain donation, that allows for many lives to be changed and saved by the gift of life. The NKR also provides voucher programs to ensure that the loved ones of living donors will have access to deceased donations if they should ever need a transplant.

The Long Road to Kidney Transplant Surgery

Dayna was “so motivated, so generous, so persistent to make this happen, despite roadblocks along the way,” said David.

As Dayna shared the news, she saw a variety of reactions from friends and family. “I think people were taken aback. My close friends said, ‘Wow, I don’t know if I could do that.’ The first question my acquaintances at the gym asked was, ‘Who is it? Do you know the person?’ But a lot of people also said to me, ‘I could do that,’ or ‘I would like to do that.’”

An optimist and a doer by nature, Dayna wasn’t intimidated by the idea of transplant surgery. “I just thought, ‘What’s the next best alternative for David?’” she said.

She began working with the transplant team at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) to complete the screening process.

The tests took place in two phases over the course of six and a half months. Phase I took five months and consisted of paperwork and standard diagnostics (bloodwork, urine, and fecal tests); Phase II took approximately six weeks and required medical testing to confirm Dayna’s medical fitness for donation.

By her best estimate, Dayna had 30 to 40 vials of blood drawn during the first phase, but because this was during COVID, and getting COVID would delay the donation process, Dayna opted to have a domiciliary phlebotomy service, GetLabs, come to her home to do all the Phase I testing. This was not only safer but more convenient for Dayna. The phlebotomist was fully masked according to pandemic safety standards, which gave both Dayna and David a higher comfort level.

Relying on Two Clinical Teams of Transplant Specialists

Two separate clinical teams at UCSF conducted Dayna and David’s pretransplant tests to ensure both were given the best care and guidance.

David’s distinguished team of care providers was led by renowned surgeon Nancy Ascher, MD, PhD, Professor of Surgery, Division of Transplant Surgery, and a Distinguished Professor in Transplantation.

Dayna’s team consisted of Chris Freise, MD, Professor and Division Chief, Division of Transplant Surgery; John Nguyen, RN, Living Donor Nurse Coordinator; and Brady Ralston, Living Kidney Donor Practice Coordinator III.

“They treated me like royalty,” Dayna said. “I can’t say enough about them. They made it so easy for me. They really did move mountains.”

For all Phase II testing, Dayna was required to travel to San Francisco to have the diagnostics performed on-site. First, she was required to have a satisfactory result from her nuclear medicine test to measure her kidney function (GFR).

In anticipation of a passing GFR test, John and Brady had booked all of Dayna’s testing the following day, including a double chest X-ray (post-anterior and lateral), blood typing, COVID testing, CT scans with contrast dye, exercise EKG, and echocardiogram. Face-to-face meetings with the transplant team (the surgeon, nephrologist, and social worker) were packed into one very long day, with the promise that Dayna would know her status as a donor in less than a week.

Meanwhile, David’s kidney health was reaching a crisis point. Though David believes his decline was slowed by his dietary change, if the transplant wasn’t conducted soon, he would have no choice but to begin dialysis, which could affect his suitability for the procedure.

Cleared for Kidney Transplant

marvel cupDayna understood that a decision would be made on the Monday following her two days of testing at UCSF, when the full transplant team would meet to evaluate each candidate. During the UCSF visit, Dayna was told by her surgeon that there was a good chance she would not be able to donate directly to David because of their height and size difference.

When Dayna received the call that UCSF Health had cleared her to donate her kidney directly to David, she and her clinical team were elated. The tests had showed that Dayna’s kidney function was “off the charts,” so much so that they could transplant Dayna’s larger kidney, which Dayna and David then nicknamed “Marvel.”  

At this point, Dayna and David thought they were in the clear, but that wasn’t the case. David had to get through a similar evaluation meeting by the UCSF transplant team the following Monday. In the meantime, Dayna asked John if UCSF could reserve a surgery date, because there was only one day available in August, and waiting until September was risky for David. The available day was Friday the 13th of August, which Dayna, David, and his family ultimately decided was their lucky day.

Following this second evaluation meeting, David was approved for transplant, and it was decided that Dayna and David were a great match. Friday the 13th was indeed a very lucky day, since the transplant went exactly as planned for both donor and recipient, and “Marvel” began working right away.

Dayna’s experience during and after the surgery was pleasant and easy. “They gave me a private room with a view,” she said. UCSF offers organic food via a hotel-like room service menu. As a gluten-free pescatarian, Dayna was impressed with the quality of the food, including Peet’s Coffee, her favorite.

She was able to leave the hospital two days post-op, feeling like her normal self. However, she had to stay in the Bay Area for a week before returning home and was required to have a follow-up call with the transplant nurse. The call was to ensure there were no complications, answer any questions, and provide a stern reminder that Dayna was not—under any circumstances—allowed to lift more than 10 pounds or do any abdominal exercise for at least six weeks.

David’s experience, as the recipient, was more intense. “I felt so lucky to be receiving this gift of life from Dayna and be in the capable hands of such an expert transplant team that I wasn’t fully prepared for how I would feel after major abdominal surgery and being on immunosuppression meds. But I would do it all over again in a heartbeat,” he said.

Life After Kidney Transplant for Recipient and Donor

Thank you cakeToday, 13 months post-transplant, Dayna, David, and Marvel the kidney are all doing well.

Dayna is back to her typical exercise regimen, with a few minor side effects and lifestyle changes. Her doctor advised that she avoid NSAIDs and halve her protein consumption, which was very high before the surgery. She also developed a hernia but has recently undergone a successful procedure to repair it.

David is adjusting to post-transplant life with his new kidney: “Things change when you’re a transplant recipient. Life revolves a lot more around medical appointments, lab tests, stringent dietary constraints, and occasional biopsies, along with twice-daily immunosuppressive medications during a pandemic when transplant recipients are more prone to serious infection.”

Despite these challenges, he is doing “infinitely better than if Dayna hadn’t stepped up and I hadn’t received the transplant and continued great care from UCSF.” David added, “This really has given me a new lease on life.”

While David and Dayna agree that transplantation is a life-changing experience, both feel more can be done to prepare potential recipients, donors, and caregivers for the transplant journey.

“As someone who wants to know the facts, the process, and the timeline up front, it was difficult for me to be patient and let the process play out,” David noted. He thinks it would be beneficial to have a better understanding of the steps involved up front, while at the same time recognizing that the timeline for each person will be different. “In addition,” he said, “the materials broadly available online for prospective donors and recipients seem incomplete. That’s why we want to share our story.”

With enhanced support from the transplant and patient advocacy community, perhaps more decades-long friendships can lead to successful kidney transplant stories.

Medical Disclaimer

This story may contain general information relating to various medical conditions and their treatment. Such information is provided for informational purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for advice provided by a doctor or other qualified health care professional. Patients should not use the information contained herein for diagnosing or treating a health condition, problem, or disease. Patients should always consult with a doctor or other health care professional for medical advice or information about diagnosis and treatment.