Life lessons: Corey to undergo kidney transplant surgery Monday

Published 9:20 am Saturday, April 27, 2019

After months of waiting and preparation, Chad Corey will finally be getting his new kidney on Monday morning.

The Austin native and ABC 6 News photojournalist has had kidney issues for much of his life and entered stage 4 kidney failure in August 2018. Needing to find a kidney donor, Corey put the word out on Twitter.

That call was answered by Chris Douglas of Rochester, who became acquaintances with Corey through covering the same sporting events. Douglas followed Corey’s Twitter and happened to stumble across his tweet. Becoming an organ donor wasn’t really something that Douglas had thought about too much. He always checked the box to be identified as a donor on his driver’s license. However, he felt compelled to fill out a form.

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“He’s just a young man who needs a kidney, and his life could be so much better with it,” Douglas said. “Why not try to help?”

Upon hearing that Douglas had the same blood type and had started the process in determining if he was a possible donor match, Corey was stunned by the news. The two kept in contact and Corey remained cautiously optimistic about the chances.

Chad Corey, right, and Chris Douglas pose for a picture earlier this year in Rochester. Douglas is donating his kidney to Corey in an operation on Monday. Photo provided

“I wasn’t stressed or worried,” Corey said. “In the back of your mind, you haven’t heard anything or you don’t hear anything from people. They’re going through the process and getting tested. You get your hopes up cautiously. These things take time, and that’s the hardest part. The waiting and time.”

It was on Feb. 28 that Douglas got to make the life changing phone call to Corey: He was a match.

“Mayo let me know that I was match,” Douglas said. “They let me call Chad and let him know that he had a kidney waiting for him.”

With the organ transplant scheduled to take place early Monday morning, the two men are anxious but excited.

Douglas is more excited to see Corey’s health and quality of life improve with the transplant, while Corey is looking forward to finally getting control of his life again.

“I’m looking forward to him feeling as good as he can possibly feel,” Douglas said. “I just want him to feel better and be done with dialysis, medications and treatments and just live a normal and happy life with whatever he decides to do.”

Having someone become a donor and willingly give up one of their kidneys to help him has touched Corey deeply. He recognized the decision as a hard one to make.

“I’m thankful for Chris and what he’s doing,” Corey said. “It’s a selfless thing. To give an organ is priceless. It’s not an easy decision and for someone to be able to do that is huge. It means a lot, and it’s gonna be life changing. “

The long road

While it took Corey less than a year to find a kidney donor, he acknowledged that not everyone is so lucky to find a match in under a year. Despite hearing about the long waiting lists for an organ transplant, Corey still held his optimism and remained relatively calm throughout the process.

“There’s a lot more people who are waiting for this or that,” he said. “It’s not surprising. It is kind of eye opening that there’s such a huge need. I know some may think about being an organ donor or hesitate because of personal opinion or religious beliefs, but if you can help one person have a better quality of life, then I think it’s worth it.”

Those who work with patients every day know how crucial it is to get awareness and information out to the public about possibly registering to become an organ donor and help save a life.

Dr. Charles Rosen, director of Mayo Clinic’s Transplant Center, has seen more than 115,000 patients waiting on organ transplants. The average wait time for someone waiting on a kidney is somewhere between three to five years, Rosen noted. The United Network for Organ Sharing stated that while more than 113,000 are currently waiting for a transplant, 74,969 of those people are active waiting list candidates.

However, medical caregivers have been raising awareness about organ donation and started conversations about what a patient wishes to do after they’re gone.

“There just aren’t enough organs for people,” Rosen said. “What we’ve done is to take the difficulty in making the decision from the time of death to a time before anyone contemplates dying think about what they would want so that their families don’t have the burden of making that decision for them.”

Nationwide, most people do support organ donation, with approval between 90 to 95 percent. However, roughly 60 to 70 percent of people end up registering as a donor. The statewide average for organ donor registration was at 69 percent, according to LifeSource.

Mower County specifically has 59 percent of its residents registered as an organ donor, which is among the lower percentages in southeast Minnesota. Although it was difficult to pinpoint an exact reason why individuals may not choose to become an organ donor, there were some myths that Rosen wanted to debunk that have been perpetuated by society.

“I acknowledge that no one wants to be a donor, that’s an understandable thought,” he said. “I think it’s important to dispel the myths about organ donations, like if you’re to be in an accident that an emergency surgery team will not try as hard to save your life if you’re going to be an organ donor is completely ridiculous. That simply doesn’t happen. Other myths include not being healthy enough to be a donor or you’re too old. We’ve actually used livers from donors who were in their 90s, and unfortunately no one is too young to be a donor.”

However, 2018 was a record year nationwide for living organ donation. There were 191 living kidney donor transplants at Mayo Clinic in Rochester this past year, compared to 53 deceased kidney donor transplants last year. This past month, Mayo Clinic promoted the needs of organ donations to increase donor registrations across different communities they serve. Their goal was to have 600 donors, and the number was surpassed with 700 newly registered donors.

“Our message is that we want people to understand that transplantation isn’t a last ditch treatment, and that it’s the best therapy available for patients in onstage organ failure,” Rosen said. “There isn’t much good that comes with a timely death, and it’s a really difficult time for the family and friends. We think of organ donation as at least one good thing to come out of a terrible situation. It’s a way of passing the gift on that you don’t give when you’re alive.”

As a donor, Douglas learned more about organ donations and transplants. He also got to see how much of a need there was for patients waiting. After a visit with Corey during one of his dialysis treatments at Mayo Clinic, Douglas got to see how much his decision to donate an organ would affect his friend.

“I was talking to Chad over at Mayo and his dialysis was so physically draining and exhausting,” he said. “He does this three times a week for four hours. There was a patient next to him that has been undergoing dialysis for six years. It’s shocking to see how this can be disruptive to your life. When you travel you need to arrange for a time to get your dialysis treatment. I think it can really restrict your life and freedom being tied to dialysis. It’s amazing thinking how much better people’s lives can be by becoming a donor.”

KAAL cameraman and Austin native Chad Corey is facing the long road to a kidney transplant, but he’s doing it with plenty of support from colleagues, friends and family. Photo provided

A new life, a fresh start

With the transplant date approaching, Corey and Douglas are anxious to get the procedure done. With the support of his family, Douglas believes the decision he made to donate a kidney to someone who needs it outweighs the nervousness.

“The difference you can make in someone’s life, that’s hard to describe,” he said. “It’s to give someone a longer life, why would we not want to do that? We don’t have a lot of time and have one go around. Why wouldn’t we try to help everyone have a good life?”

After what seemed like a long, painful journey to get to the transplant, it seemed like fate that the procedure would be done in April, which is also known as National Donate Life Month. During the entirety of the month, people are encouraged locally and nationally to register as organ donors.

It’s people like Corey who are helped by people like Douglas, and the rest of Corey’s life is ahead of him.

“If anyone’s on the fence, you never know how it can help somebody,” he said. “The process is lengthy, but I think it’s worth it. I’m just excited about having a better quality of life.”

Timeline of Chad Corey’s organ transplant journey

May 1997

When Chad Corey was 13 years old, he experienced a traumatic injury to his kidneys. Since then, he struggled with 45 to 55 percent kidney function. From ages 13 to 30, Corey lived a somewhat “normal” life.

June 2014

A series of symptoms led to Corey getting diagnosed with stage 3 kidney failure. Since the diagnosis, Corey had started taking medications to prolong the life of the kidney for as long as possible.

August 2018

Corey received news that he was entering stage 4 kidney failure. He started the process of searching for a kidney donor. Around this time, Chris Douglas saw on Twitter that Corey was needing a new kidney. Douglas decides to begin the process of seeing whether he’d be a match for Corey.

September 2018

Douglas notified Corey that he was beginning the process of figuring out if he was a potential donor match. The two kept in touch and Douglas planned to update Corey on the process and whether he’d be a possible kidney donor.

Feb. 28, 2019

Corey receives a phone call from Douglas about being a kidney donor match.

April 29, 2019

Corey and Douglas will have their transplant procedure done at Mayo Clinic in Rochester.