- Associated Press - Monday, November 3, 2014

BELOIT, Wis. (AP) - David Taylor, 56, and Ryan Obershaw, 42, have always shared a lot.

Friends for more than 30 years, David said his wife Mona is the foster sister of Ryan’s wife Malinda. David is a Godparent to Ryan’s 9-year-old son Zachary, and Ryan is a Godparent to David’s little grandson.

However, today the two men share much more than just family and friendship: Ryan’s kidney is now filtering blood in David’s body.

“He gave me the gift of life,” David said.

And the kidney just keeps on giving.

Friends and family are a little bit closer after the experience. For Ryan, there is no greater gift than to see the health return to David after a transplant surgery on Sept. 11, the Beloit Daily News (http://bit.ly/1oR6ilu ) reported.

“There is no greater thanks than to see the color, energy and happiness return to that person’s body. I would do it again if I could,” Ryan said.

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David, a father of two and machinist in Elkhorn, had always been the picture of health, but he became a little nervous when five years ago doctors told him that he had Stage 4 moderate kidney failure.

Although David said his father experienced kidney problems back in 1999, doctors had overlooked David’s glomerular filtration rate (GFR), a test used to check how well the kidneys are working. It turned out he himself had already been having kidney failure back in 1999.

By 2009, David was told he would eventually need dialysis and a kidney transplant by his 60s.

Surprisingly, David said he felt fine at the time and was lulled into a false sense of security. He was working full time, feeling good and at times even questioned the reality of his kidney failure.

David and Mona were jolted when they found out his kidneys had dropped down to 19 percent function, which made him eligible to sign up for kidney transplant and to go on dialysis. David said he was told it would probably be a two-year wait before he might receive a kidney.

This spring David began peritoneal dialysis, a way to remove waste products from his blood. Hooked up to a cycling machine 10 hours a day at home as he slept at night, David was able to continue working.

Malinda said she and Ryan didn’t realize the severity of David’s kidney problem until March. The two couples were riding in a car together as they left a family funeral when David told them he was signed up for transplant.

Without hesitation, the carload of family agreed to get tested to see if anyone might be a match.

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Mona, Ryan and Malinda got their blood drawn together and were later told they all would be a potential match, as Malinda and Mona were both blood type O, the universal blood type.

However, doctors told them Ryan would be the best match of the group because of his blood type A+, the same as David. Doctors also said Ryan’s male kidney would be a similar size to what David needed.

Without hesitation, Ryan agreed to donate his kidney as he was the best match and he figured Mona would be needed to care for her husband after surgery.

Ryan said his only minor reservation was the battery of tests he knew he’d have to undergo, secretly wondering if doctors might find something wrong with him. But after a full day of testing - complete with 20 vials of blood dawn - Ryan was deemed to be in perfect health. He also successfully passed a 599-question psychological test.

Saying he was a “meat and potatoes” guy, Ryan was surprised with his suitability for the transplant. His wife Malinda said she was surprised to learn how easy it actually is to donate an organ, despite the fact the men had no blood relation.

“They have come so far with anti-rejection medicine they can make it work,” she said. “I don’t think it’s hard to be a match.”

Despite the potential match between the two men, David admits he was a little concerned about the gravity of him accepting Ryan’s gift. He never wanted Ryan to have any regrets and at times questioned if there was something wrong with Ryan for so readily volunteering to have one of his organs taken from him.

“I didn’t want this to be a wedge between us later. I would rather not have it if it was going to ruin the relationship,” David said. “I wanted him to research it as much as possible.”

But Ryan said he never wavered in his decision. Knowing David for 30 years, he said he was confident his friend would take care of his new kidney. During rounds of psychological testing, Ryan was asked how he would react if something went wrong. Ryan said he would know he did what he could.

“God’s plan is God’s plan. If it doesn’t work, He has something else in store. It was never a question,” Ryan said.

Ryan decided he would be ready for the surgery in August after his 9-year-old son’s busy baseball season was winding down and after Malinda got through her volunteer marketing duties at the Darien Cornfest. They all agreed the weekend after Labor Day would be best with the appointment falling on Sept. 11.

Malinda confessed she worried about the procedure although she was able to keep it out of her mind by trusting that God was in control. David and Ryan were on five church prayer chains and had their own Facebook page “David and Ryan’s transplant prayer group,” made to help update family and friends as the big surgery got closer and to communicate during the day of surgery.

On Sept. 10 the two couples headed for Madison and Ryan and David met with a transplant coordinator. While the boys had their salads for lunch, Malinda said she and Mona had their meltdowns in the hotel.

The next day doctors were to take Ryan’s left kidney and would put it into David’s body, attaching it to an artery and a vein of David’s. The new kidney in David’s body would do all the blood filtering, with his other two existing kidneys to stay in his body. David explained that the new kidney would do all the work, with the other two “along for the ride.”

After Ryan’s kidney was taken out doctors told him his remaining kidney would accommodate for the loss and do the work of two kidneys.

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Mona and Malinda were given pagers as their husbands entered surgery the morning of Sept. 11.

Ryan then had a 2.5 inch incision made near his naval and doctors went in to remove the kidney.

In David the kidney, artery and vein of the new kidney were connected to an artery and vein in his pelvis. David’s blood then was able to flow through the new kidney, filtering urine like David’s own kidney would.

Once the surgery was over and Ryan woke up from his medication, he padded down the hall to see David. It was only then that he realized how truly ill his friend had been, after seeing how different he looked with the new kidney.

“His cheeks were rosy. He was full of energy. That’s all I needed to see. I don’t need anything more than that,” Ryan said.

“When he walked in it was the best thing I could ask for,” David said. “I had a new lease on life. They put something in me and I felt immediately better in many ways.”

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A few days after the surgery the two men arrived home for their 6-week recovery. For Ryan his recovery has been quick, although he sometimes feels “phantom” twinges where his kidney used to be. Doctors have told him he may feel a little fatigued and his blood pressure could go up 1-2 points, but he should be fine.

David is on anti-rejection medication and has been a bit tired, although his health is infinitely better thanks to his new kidney. He will have to remain on anti-rejection medication and keep a vigilant watch over his immune system in the future.

David said he takes his health very serious.

“Because he gave it to me (the kidney) I owe it to him to take care of it. It’s extended my life and gave me a better quality of life than doing dialysis,” he said.

Today Ryan and David’s relationship is the same as ever, just good friends who share holiday dinners and now a kidney.

“Out of our whole family they are more related than any of us now,” Malinda said.

David’s son Allen said it “just made sense” that the kidney come from Ryan who he’s always considered an uncle and friend.

Ryan’s 9-year-old son Zachary said he’ll never forget the day his father Ryan donated a kidney to his uncle.

“9/11 used to be remembered as a bad day but now can be remembered as a good day,” Zachary said.

Ryan said he would hope if he ever needed a kidney, somebody would do the same for him. Both he and David credit the UW Health Transplant Program for helping them and their families through the process. All agreed donating and receiving a kidney was a much smoother process than they could have imagined.

In addition to a shorter wait time for a kidney, there are many advantages to having a live donor, such as donor kidneys tend to last longer, there is more complete medical testing of the live donor and the kidney is transplanted into the recipient immediately after the donor surgery. The risk to the donor is also minimal, and research shows the long-term medical risks of having only one remaining kidney are low, according to the UW Health Transplant Program.

Ryan, sporting his “donate life” shirt, said he strongly encourages others to consider the gift of life.

“I would say, ‘Do it in a heartbeat,’” he said.

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Information from: Beloit Daily News, http://www.beloitdailynews.com

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