In honor of Organ Donor Awareness Month, we’re sharing the story of Anna and Andrew Copley. Read below about Anna’s journey to transplant and the bond that will tie two siblings together forever.
Anna Copley, 15, and her family have known since Anna was a baby that she might need a kidney transplant. At only 3 weeks old, she contracted severe respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a virus that infected her lungs and breathing passages. Her kidneys failed due to the virus and even though she recovered, her kidneys were damaged beyond repair. As Anna grew up, her kidneys got progressively worse, unknowingly to the Copley family.
“We are thankful that Anna’s kidney’s ‘failed slowly,’” said Rebecca Copley, Anna’s mother. “Her kidney failure progressed so slowly, that her body adjusted, and for her, she only knew this as normal.”
As Anna began the fourth grade, her kidneys failed once again. She was diagnosed with stage 4 chronic kidney failure. Her kidneys were only functioning at about 20-25% of what was considered normal. Doctors were able to help slow the progression of the disease, but they knew she would eventually get worse. That’s when her oldest brother, Andrew Copley, who was in high school at the time, decided he would be the one to save Anna’s life.
“The confidence I had to donate my kidney came from my faith in God,” said Andrew. “I knew I could do something to save her life, and that I would be the one to donate a kidney to her. I felt like it was my duty as her oldest brother to do so. And when my mind was made up, I didn’t look back.”
Andrew and Anna have always been a really close pair, Andrew being the oldest of four siblings and Anna the youngest. He was the first to step up to get tested as a match for Anna. And he was also the last. He was a perfect match. There was never any doubt in his mind that he would be the one to donate his kidney to his sister, and his decision was unwavering.
“It’s a really big thing to say, that you’re going to give up a kidney,” said Anna. “He’s an amazing big brother. He gave me my life back.”
“As parents, we are continually blown away by what our oldest son did for his little sister,” said Rebecca. “Andrew told us from the time she was diagnosed with chronic kidney failure, that he was the one who would give her a kidney when she needed it.”
Losing kidney function fast
Originally from Spokane, Wash., Anna had been receiving care for her chronic kidney disease in her hometown. It was hard for the family to decide to leave Spokane to receive treatment at another hospital, but they knew it was the best thing for Anna.
“We managed Anna’s kidney disease the best we could,” said Dr. Joel Hernandez, a nephrologist at Seattle Children’s Hospital who has treated Anna since she was 9 years old. “There are many factors you have to evaluate when determining when to transplant. If she was 1 years old when we decided it was time, she would have needed another kidney around the age of 21. Instead, we were able to manage her condition, allowing her to grow and buying more time. We worked to slow down the progression of the disease instead of going straight to transplant.”
At 14 years old, a kidney transplant was imminent. Anna was suffering from fatigue, debilitating headaches and continued to lose weight.
Rebecca and Anna decided to move to Seattle and receive care at Seattle Children’s. They were a long way from home, but their relationship with Hernandez and the reputation of Seattle Children’s made the decision an easy one to make. Seattle Children’s is one of the top five kidney transplant centers in the United States and performs more pediatric kidney transplants than any other center in the region, around 400 to date.
In 2014, the kidney transplant team at Seattle Children’s Hospital began to prepare for Anna’s transplant.
“When we talk about transplantation and think about where a patient should go for transplant, the best thing for a child is to be seen by doctors who have the most experience and expertise,” said Hernandez. “The advantage of a center like Seattle Children’s, is that success rates are high and complications are minimal because we do so many transplants.”
“We love Dr. Hernandez,” said Rebecca, Anna’s mom. “We’ve known him since Anna was 9 years old, and trust him. We felt like Seattle Children’s was the best place for us and Anna, and Dr. Hernandez agreed.”
Bonded by a kidney
On Dec. 3, 2014, about five years after Andrew decided he would be Anna’s donor, Anna and Andrew went into surgery, Anna to get rid of a failing kidney and Andrew to donate a healthy one. Transferred from the University of Washington Medical Center, Andrew’s kidney was brought to Seattle Children’s where Anna was waiting in the operating room.
The transplant was a success. Slowly, Anna got better. As she recovered at Seattle Children’s she spent hours FaceTiming with her older brother while he recovered just miles down the road. From hospital bed to hospital bed, they stayed in touch until Andrew was released. As soon as he could, he was by her bedside, their bond now closer than ever.
Getting back to normal
It took some time for Anna to understand what it was like to have working kidneys. She’d been sick for so long, feeling normal was an adjustment.
For almost four months, Anna needed to stay near Seattle Children’s. She had lab draws twice a week to make sure her body wasn’t rejecting the kidney and she attended school at the hospital.
Finally, they received news that Anna was well enough to go home.
“We’ve been at Seattle Children’s for so long it feels like we have a family here now,” said Anna. “We’re going to miss everyone, but we’re going to miss our transplant team the most. We can’t thank them enough.”
Today, Anna is back to life as usual – a happy healthy teenager. She’s back to doing the things she enjoys, including playing music in her school’s band.
To become a donor, please register your wish in the Donate Life Today registry.