A weekly look at SoCal life covering news, arts and culture, and more.
Hosted by John Rabe

John Rabe's siblings & the kidney transplant that brought them closer than ever

James and the Giant Kidney (Kidney recipient James Rabe at Mayo Clinic, posing with a model kidney.)
James and the Giant Kidney (Kidney recipient James Rabe at Mayo Clinic, posing with a model kidney.)
John Rabe

Listen to story

Download this story 9.0MB

To feel like absolute garbage and have several episodes beforehand where you really thought you were going to die, to go to feeling as though nothing could kill you, is nothing short of miraculous.

That's how my younger brother James, 45, put it Friday when I talked with him about the kidney transplant -- from my sister Joan, 58 -- that's given him a new lease on life.

James, a commercial DJ in Twin Falls ID, has a degenerative kidney disease called Alport syndrome. In 2007, his doctor told him his kidney function was dropping fast, and a transplant wasn't far in the future. In 2012, when skin started peeling off the insides of James' cheeks and his red blood cell count fell dangerously low, the doc told him the future is now.

The transplant happened December 21 at The Mayo Clinic in Rochester MN and was, as the docs described it, "textbook." James was holding court in his hospital room the day after - it was so noisy my sister Clare (who came to Rochester with her husband Larry) had to shelter in the bathroom to talk with me on the phone. My brother Karl and his wife Patty drove from Detroit to be there. My sister Kate Forgach sent prayers from Fort Collins CO and followed his progress online and over the phone, as I did.

The donor was my sister Joan, 58, a retired IBM employee who lives in Rochester MN just fifteen minutes from Mayo. "When she called and told me she was a hundred-percent match," James said, "I had to pull my car over and cry for a while; I was very very happy."

Joan told me, "There's a few times in life the you get the opportunity that, there's no question about it, it's the right thing to do. And it's fun to be able to do something that is absolutely good. You know, every other thing, you have choices -- Is this the right thing? Is that the right thing? -- Pff! No question about it, this was the right thing to do."

I couldn't be there for the transplant itself, but I did visit them last week to see how they were doing. James and Joan are recovering remarkably well: James still gets tired and takes a nap every day, but Joan seems to be entirely back to normal. 

Joan and her husband Jay have two cocker spaniels, and since James (yes, I know, lots of J's) is allergic, he's staying at his old friend Tracy's house, in her (furnished) basement. The family calls him "The Man in the Basement." That's where I recorded the interview you can hear here.

Now, a word about donating your organs:

Please consider registering to become a organ donor, if you aren't already. You can enroll enroll online. It's quick and easy and may save someone's life. Need a little convincing? Take a minute to watch "Donate Life: Become an Organ Donor"... a video my sister Clare DeBoever produced with 13 Baylor Health Care System transplant patients explaining why they think organ donation is important.