Son’s gift of kidney to mother: a well-kept secret

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Pearsall Mary Matt

For nearly 2,850 Michigan residents, it’s on the top of their list for 2017 – a kidney. A gift welcome at any time of the year.

For Mary Pearsall, 60, of Rochester Hills, the past year has been life-changing. Her daughter, Allison, was married in May. And she received an unexpected life-saving gift from her son Matt in September.

Back in February 2016, Mary was slowly losing kidney function. By March, she was hospitalized. Then, in April, things took a turn for the worse and she began dialysis treatments.


With his mother in the hospital, Matt, 30, had a secret plan. Without her knowledge, he took her cellphone. Scrolling through Mary’s phone directory, he found the contact information for her kidney doctor – Jeff Gold, M.D. He then called the doctor’s office. They discussed Matt’s idea of donating a kidney to his mother. Dr. Gold referred him to Beaumont’s Kidney Transplant program, where after getting more information about the donor process, he underwent some preliminary blood tests. All of the testing was done without telling his mother. This began the process to determine whether he was a prospective donor. In the meantime, Matt moved to the Nashville, Tennessee area with his wife and daughter.

In May, Matt returned to Michigan for more testing. At the Beaumont Multi-Organ Transplant Program in Royal Oak, he underwent X-rays and CTs. Then, he received good news. The testing revealed he was a good match to be a donor for his mother.


On Memorial Day weekend, surrounded by immediate family, Matt said, ‘“Mom, I think you should sit down because I want to tell you something,’ and I was thinking something bad had happened,” Mary recalled. “So, he said, ‘I have decided to be your kidney donor.’”

She told him that she had already made the decision to wait another year and see how things played out, but Matt revealed he had undergone compatibility testing and was a match.

Matt remembered his mother’s initial reaction, “No, I don’t want you to do that.” It was a monumental evening for all, including for her husband Ed, daughter Allison and sister Kathy.

Mary said, “It was a very emotional night, a lot of crying and a lot of, ‘Are you sure?’”

After Matt’s announcement, he said it took a couple of days for his mother to come to terms with his decision.

A former EMT, now working as a sales manager for a large pharmaceutical supplier, Matt was well-versed on the benefits of his mother receiving a living kidney donation. He didn’t want her on an organ donor list for four to six years, nor undergoing dialysis treatments.

On Sept. 21 at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, one of Matt’s kidneys was successfully transplanted into his mother. More than three months post-op, both are doing well.


Mary is so grateful and proud of her son’s generous gift of a kidney. She said, “He was not asked and did this all on his own.” She is also thankful it was such a positive experience for both of them. “He’s so happy to be a donor,” she said of Matt. And they credit the entire kidney transplant team at Beaumont, including their surgeons Steve Cohn, M.D., and Damanpreet Bedi, M.D., for making it a wonderful experience. “We did our homework and were impressed with Beaumont’s excellent survival rates,” said Matt.


mary-matt-pearsallWhat does the future hold for kidney donors like Matt? “They typically resume their normal lifestyles. However, vigilance is important for donors, too. We request a comprehensive health screening at least once a year for the rest of their lives. Interestingly, kidney donors usually outlive their counterparts in the general population,” said Dilip Samarapungavan, M.D., medical director, Multi-Organ Transplant Program, Beaumont Health.

To increase the availability of live donor kidneys, the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network has a Kidney Paired Donation Pilot Program. Nationwide, more than 100 kidney programs participate, including Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak.

Added Dr. Samarapungavan, “The need is great. In the long term, a deceased donor kidney on average lasts about 10 to 11 years, while a living donor kidney may last for 20 to 25 years. Living kidney donations indeed save lives.”

According to Gift of Life Michigan, about 55 to 60 percent of Michigan drivers have registered to be a donor on their driver’s license. These gifts of organs and tissue are made after the donor dies, whereas a living kidney organ donation can benefit a recipient while the donor is alive.

Thinking about donating a kidney?

Have you ever thought about donating a kidney to a family member, loved one, friend or stranger in need?

Matt Pearsall, 30, a former Michigan resident, can tell you it’s one of the most rewarding experiences ever.

Did you know living kidney donors:

  • Have few out-of-pocket costs? Initial testing, their surgery and hospital care are covered by the recipient’s insurance carrier.
  • Statistically, live longer than non donors?
  • Can help a friend or family member, even if their kidney does not match? Many transplant centers, including Beaumont, Royal Oak, participate in a paired donation program/database, or Kidney Paired Donation program.

Benefits of a living kidney to the recipient:

  • Can dramatically reduce their time on the organ waiting list
  • On average, will last longer than a deceased donor kidney
  • They may also need less immunosuppressant drug therapy
  • Recipient may receive a transplant before dialysis
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