Thankful for the gift of life: A Thanksgiving transplant story
Sean McNeil is thankful this holiday season for 26 years with his wife, Renee - and the kidney she shared with him in a living donor transplant just four weeks ago.
The cute girl with the beautiful hazel eyes he met in 1987, hanging out with friends at the Butterfly Suite arcade and go-kart track at 14 Mile and Van Dyke in Sterling Heights, was a match in more ways than one.
“I’ve always felt it was my job to care for my family and not to have them do this here for me,” said Sean, 55, of Roseville, a father of two sons and a maintenance administrator for AT&T. “But to have someone here in your corner, to step up immediately... I just don’t have the words.”
Having diabetes for 16 years, Sean avoided dialysis through diet and medication management with his primary care doctor. But he went into full kidney failure in April 2021 - and was told a kidney transplant may be in his future.
Sean turned to the Beaumont Multi-Organ Transplant Program. Beaumont's kidney transplant program offers the best transplant surgery success rate in Michigan, while offering the shortest wait time for patients to receive their transplant, according to the annual Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients report. The report is based on data collected from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, the agency that oversees transplants in the United States, as well as the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and other agencies that track transplant outcome data in the U.S.
“We strive to provide the best care and outcomes for our patients, both donors and recipients,” Dr. Damanpreet Bedi, section head of the Beaumont Multi-organ Transplantation Program. “It’s an honor to share the gift of life.”
“I just knew it was the right thing to do,” said Renee, 51, a transportation assistant for special needs children with the Macomb Intermediate School District about her decision to donate. “Whether I was a match or not, I wanted to make sure he had that opportunity. I said I need him in my life just as much. I can’t go on without him. I need him just as much as he needs me. He’s my best friend.”
Road to Kidney Transplant
Sean’s road to transplant began just six months prior. After falling asleep in his recliner, he started to get up to go to bed at 4 a.m. Instead, he fell back into the recliner and rolled onto the floor.
“I wasn’t able to yell out,” Sean said. “I wasn’t able to pick myself back up off the floor. She was getting ready. And she came out, about ready to go to work, and saw me on the floor in the family room. She started talking to me and asking me questions. I was understanding her, but I wasn’t able to comprehend and give a clear answer to her. And she knew immediately to call 911.”
His blood sugar level, normally 120 mg/DL, had bottomed out at 36 mg/DL. His systolic blood pressure, around 120 in a healthy person, had shot up to a dangerous 246, pushing him into the possibility of a heart attack or stroke.
The ambulance took him to a nearby hospital in Warren, where a nephrologist told him he needed dialysis immediately.
“He told me, ‘You’re in complete renal failure; both kidneys are shot,’” Sean said. “The scariest thing, besides being told that, was that I needed dialysis immediately or I might not make it through the day.”
He survived, then began kidney dialysis, four hours a day, three days a week in Warren, then in Clinton Township. A very compliant patient, Sean was quickly prepared for at-home dialysis to make things easier.
But it was a comment from his nephrologist as Sean settled into a dialysis routine that set the transplant in motion.
“He said that the way things were going - I don’t know how he knew it; I still thank the man - he said, ‘I can’t promise it, but I see you being able to have a new kidney within six months to a year,’” said Sean. “He said the sooner you get things going, the better things would be for me.”
Living Kidney Donation
Living kidney donation often offers a better, faster option for patients in advanced kidney failure. Data shows living donor kidneys typically last longer than deceased donor. And while patients listed on the deceased donor waiting list can wait five years or more for an organ, living donor recipients can schedule the procedure as soon as a donor is found and the evaluation process is complete.
Sean and Renee reached out to Beaumont for help.
“They had us come in, they talked to us and walked through everything with myself and Renee,” Sean said. “They explained about living donor and deceased donor, and how things work out better with a living donor. And they gave us all the information we needed about how anyone who wanted to be tested could sign up.”
And while dozens of family members and friends offered to be evaluated, Renee turned out to be a great match.
“I’m thankful for all the people who reached out, with prayers and well wishes and those asking what could they do, how could they help,” said Sean. “As the doctors were saying, this is a second shot at life, and that’s what it’s been to me.”