- Associated Press - Sunday, June 24, 2018

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) - Michael and Maura Gray of Evans gave their youngest daughter, Bailey, the gift of life.

Twenty-one years later, just in time for Father’s Day, Bailey gave back.

In desperate need of a kidney transplant, Michael Gray, 55, received from his daughter an organ diagnosed as such a perfect, healthy match that one of Bailey’s older brothers jokingly called it “the Ferrari of kidneys.”

“She’s a hero,” her father said.

Gray, a Defense Department analyst at Fort Gordon, first received a transplant in 1993 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, after being diagnosed with kidney disease while serving in the Navy - “a freak thing for a guy my age,” he said.

Harvested from a cadaver, the kidney was expected to last about eight years. It lasted 24.

Last autumn, Gray’s doctor at Dwight D. Eisenhower Medical Center directed him toward the transplant team at AU Medical Center. A series of tests began to check for transplant need and eligibility, and Gray fully intended to wait the average of eight to 10 years for an acceptable donor.

“Which is ridiculous,” he said.

Then the Grays told their two sons and two daughters about the need for a transplant - and almost immediately the clan’s self-described competitive nature kicked in. All four siblings began jockeying for the chance to donate a kidney to their father.

“That’s how our family is, yes,” Maura Gray said.

Son Andy, 28 - “the most competitive of all of them,” Gray said - tested as a match last November. Four months of more testing led to a transplant date the first week of May. But four days before the scheduled surgery, doctors told Gray he was producing an antibody that likely would reject his son’s kidney.

So they entered the “shared kidney” program, in which Gray would wait for a better donor, and Andy would donate to a third party who would be a better match.

Other offers to donate poured in across the country from friends and relatives of the Grays. The wife of one of Gray’s former bosses in the Navy. Friends in California. The mother of Bailey’s boyfriend. Gray’s best friend. Gray’s sister.

Gray’s father was even tested but was rejected immediately after doctors discovered he was born with just one kidney - the odds of which, by one estimate, are about one in 750.

Then - on Gray’s birthday, no less - Bailey was found to be what Gray called “a perfect match.”

That was the first 2018 birthday present from Bailey. The other present was a shirt.

The birthday card read, “I hope you like the shirt - and my kidney,” she said with a laugh.

But Gray initially refused. Bailey, a biology major at the University of Georgia, was about to take a summer class, and he didn’t want a kidney donation to interfere with her health or academic progress.

“I knew he wasn’t too thrilled about it,” Bailey said.

“It was tough, being a father of a 21-year-old daughter,” Gray said. “But she insisted. She got very angry with me when I told her she couldn’t do it.”

The staff at AU Medical Center expedited the testing process. What took her brother four months took three weeks for Bailey. That included blood work, tissue typing, urinalyses, CT scans, glucose testing and X-rays.

“It was crazy how fast they got me in there and got all the tests done,” she said. “It was amazing.”

It turned out her kidney was “very good,” she said. “They said it was one of the best they’d ever seen.”

Surgeons performed the successful surgery June 7. In the days after the transplant, the kidney performed so well that Gray lost 30 pounds of accumulated fluid during his brief hospital recovery.

Bailey was out of the hospital just two days after the surgery, and Gray the day after that.

The current prognosis: The kidney is so healthy, it’s expected to outlive Gray.

The family couldn’t get over the emotional outpouring among their circle of friends of people willing to become donors.

“A lot of people just like this guy, I guess,” Bailey said, smiling.

“It is overwhelming when people tell you they want to be tested,” Maura Gray said. “It boggles your mind to where saying ‘thank you’ just isn’t enough.”

Her own decision, Bailey said, was easy.

“It’s my dad,” she said. “He’s done a lot for me in my 21 years, so it’s the least I can do.”

___

Information from: The Augusta Chronicle , http://www.augustachronicle.com

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