Belinda Hudson would do anything for her 18-year-old son, Nigel Dalton. So when he needed a kidney, she didn’t hesitate to offer one of her own.
Unfortunately, she wasn’t a match.
“I always thought I’d be able to give him mine,” said Hudson. “I’m his mom. I couldn’t believe I wasn’t a match. I felt so helpless.”
She was, however, a perfect match for someone else, a complete stranger. So again, without hesitation, she offered her kidney, and in return her son found a match as well.
And so, through the National Kidney Registry, a chain of six people and three kidneys was formed, all linked together by the gift of life.
A broken kidney, a long journey
When Hudson was 20 weeks pregnant she found out there was something wrong with her baby boy’s kidneys. After giving birth, doctors confirmed the diagnosis. His kidneys were damaged beyond repair. Even with surgical intervention, the family knew at some point a kidney transplant would be his only option.
Since childhood, Dalton lived a relatively normal life. He was active and did well in school, but he felt tired often, had a poor appetite and suffered from high blood pressure.
When kidneys are damaged or diseased and can no longer work, waste builds up in the blood and damages the body. Eventually the kidneys fail and an individual is placed on dialysis, a way to remove waste from the blood when the kidneys are not able to function on their own.
“Some days were better than others,” said Hudson. “But living that way was just always his normal.”
Normal for him also included facing the reality that his kidneys would fail one day.
In need of a transplant
In April 2015, that day came. Dalton’s health drastically deteriorated and he was listed for transplant.
“Today, there are more than 100,000 people waiting for a kidney transplant,” said Dr. Patrick Healey, division chief of Transplantation at Seattle Children’s. “Some people wait for years. There is no way to fulfill the need without donation.”
The family could do nothing but wait, since no one in the family was a match. Unfortunately, the data pertaining to organ donations is overwhelming. According to United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), every 10 minutes someone is added to the national transplant list and on average, 22 people die each day while waiting for a transplant.
When Hudson heard about the National Kidney Registry (NKR) and paired exchanges, she found hope. In a paired exchange, a donor donates a kidney to another person in exchange for a compatible kidney for their loved one. In a kidney chain, an altruistic donor sets off a chain reaction of paired exchanges, often throughout the country.
“This type of donation expands the possibility of a transplant,” said Healey. “The National Kidney Registry can find the best matches for each recipient. It’s a living, moving process. A donor could be from Georgia or California, or anywhere else in the U.S. Together, we assess the best options for the patient.”
For Hudson, this was the best option for their family.
“I wanted to do whatever I could to help him,” said Hudson. “I’d never heard of a kidney exchange before, but after we found out that it was a possibility the question became not should we do it, but when?”
Third times a charm
On two separate occasions, the family was paired, linking them in a kidney chain. Unfortunately, both times the chain broke and the family was left to wait again.
“It was devastating,” said Hudson.
At last, on May 23, they were given the green light. They had been linked with other donors and recipients to form a kidney chain – six people and three kidneys long. The donation would be Seattle Children’s first involvement in a kidney chain.
“We almost didn’t believe it,” Hudson. “We’d gotten our hopes up before.”
But on May 24, the stars aligned. Hudson underwent surgery to remove her kidney at the University of Washington Medical Center and only hours apart Dalton was given a kidney at Seattle Children’s thanks to a donor out of state.
A fresh start
According to Healey, Dalton’s outlook is bright.
“He’ll have normal kidney function, good blood pressure and better overall health,” he said. “The first thing he’ll notice is he’ll have more energy. He’ll be able to lead a normal life, much different than the normal he’s known.”
For Hudson, she couldn’t be more thankful to the donor who gave her son a new lease on life. From their experience, she hopes to raise awareness about organ donation.
“I see how important is to donate,” said Hudson. “Before this, I was on the outside looking in. Now, I’m the one on the inside looking out. I want to spread awareness. There are so many people still waiting.”
To the stranger, who donated a kidney to her son, she has a message:
“As much as you helped our family, I wanted to help you. I want you to know, I get it. I know exactly the position you are in. This is what we have to do to help our families live. I’m forever grateful and empathetic,” she said.