Brandon Hudson acts like it was nothing.
His father, Timothy Hudson sometimes has to pause. The 56-year-old Syracuse man is rendered speechless, overwhelmed by emotion, when he recalls how Brandon donated to him one of his healthy kidneys.
“I was fading fast,” the father recalls. “I don’t know how much longer I would have lasted.”
Son and father in June became the 11th living donor kidney transplant pair at Upstate this year. They were the third set of African Americans, which represents an upward trend in recruiting people of color to donate organs for transplant.
African Americans are the largest minority group in need of organ transplant but make up a comparatively small percentage of people willing to donate, according to the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Minority Health. The National Kidney Foundation says African Americans have an increased risk of developing kidney failure because of high rates of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. That drives the demand for kidney transplants — and the need for kidney donations.
Transplant surgeon J. Keith Melancon, MD, says Central New Yorkers spend an average of four to five years on the waiting list. About a third will die before a kidney becomes available. Among the rest, some will receive kidneys from deceased donors. Others may have family members or friends who offer to be living donors.
“People who get transplanted pretty much have a normal life expectancy compared to people who have end stage renal disease and have to be on dialysis,” the surgeon says.
Hudson was on dialysis and not doing well.
He had been living what he believed was a healthy life about five years ago, running 5 or 6 miles a day, lifting weights, stocking his refrigerator with milk and healthy juices. Then he developed a cough, and soon he was struggling to breathe. At the hospital, he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and kidney failure and admitted to the intensive care unit. Doctors were not sure he would survive.
When he was discharged, Hudson was on dialysis. His high blood pressure was closely monitored, and he took 35 medications per day. He developed pneumonia and other infections. Three years in a row, he spent his birthday hospitalized with some type of complication.
His 23-year-old son Brandon kept offering one of his kidneys for transplant. One of Hudson’s daughters and a brother offered, too, but were ultimately unable to donate. Hudson did not believe Brandon knew enough about what he was offering. Plus, he says, “I didn’t want him to feel like he had to do this.”
Brandon wanted to see his father healthy again. He broached the topic of him donating a kidney multiple times, “and he would be like ‘we’ll see.’ He was kind of just putting it off.”
When Brandon began speaking about creatinine levels – the byproduct of muscle metabolism excreted by the kidneys that doctors use to assess renal health — Hudson knew his son had done his homework. They agreed to pursue a living donor transplant.
Even on the morning of surgery, Hudson told his son it would be OK to back out. He pulled aside Melancon and Vaughn Whittaker, MD. “I don’t want anything to happen to me,” he told the two surgeons, “but PLEASE don’t let anything happen to my son.”
After the surgeries, the father and son spoke briefly by telephone as they recovered in their hospital rooms. Brandon later took a wheelchair to visit his father’s room. He just wanted to make sure he was all right.
Learn about transplant services at Upstate
Would you donate a kidney to a stranger?
Listen to an interview with Dr. Vaughn Whittaker on kidney transplant advances
Dr. Sriram Narsipur speaks about kidney diseases and treatments
Listen to Dr. J. Keith Melancon talk about the importance of kidney transplants