A few years ago, John D’Angelo started getting headaches and noticed his blood pressure creeping higher. D’Angelo, now 58, had a healthy lifestyle, did not drink or smoke, and spent his time working on cars and enjoying time with his large family. As the owner of an auto repair shop, he thought the aches and pains he felt each day were just part of life.
“I’ve been in car accidents, and I work on cars for a living so it was easy for me to think this was typical,” said D’Angelo, of Florissant.
But when his symptoms didn’t let up, his family practitioner referred him to a Washington University kidney specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. That doctor determined D'Angelo needed a kidney transplant.
“They said I had stage 4, almost stage 5, renal failure,” he said. “I was so shocked and didn’t believe what they were saying. I had no idea what that meant, but it didn’t sound good.”
Stage 5, or end-stage renal disease, is the most severe and typically requires a kidney transplant.
“They told me that these aches and pains were not normal at all and if I had a transplant, I’d feel completely different,” he said.
He told his family he planned to put his name on the national donor list and to wait and see what happened. But his family had other plans.
D’Angelo’s daughter and six siblings volunteered to see if any of them would be a match. One of D’Angelo’s sisters was the best match, but his daughter, Andrea D'Angelo, was also a good match. And she was determined to help her father.
“We’ve always had a close relationship, so I wanted to be the one to give him a kidney,” said Andrea, 29. “I don’t understand how anyone who had the chance to give would choose not to.”
According to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, more than 120,000 people are waiting for an organ, and a new person joins the list every 10 minutes. When family members join the ranks of other donors, it makes an impact.
"Organ donations from living donors have done a great deal to help patients in need,” said M.B. Majella Doyle, MD, a Washington University transplant surgeon at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. “We perform donor surgery and transplants with regularity and success here, and it is a huge honor to operate on a person — a hero in my mind — who is giving up a kidney to a loved one. I and other surgeons who do this are so grateful to donors and their families for such a selfless act."
Before Andrea could become a donor, she underwent a comprehensive evaluation, which included a thorough health assessment and conversations with a social worker. During the testing process to ensure she was healthy enough to be a donor, X-rays showed a small tumor on her pancreas. The tumor was a slight bump in the road to surgery, and although it was noncancerous, her father thought he could talk her out of becoming a donor.
“The only thing I worried about throughout this whole process was her well-being,” John D’Angelo said.
Once Andrea was cleared to be a donor, she met with the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Transplant Center team and scheduled surgery.
“I asked him what he was doing at 5 a.m. on Sept. 27 and if he wanted to meet me at Barnes-Jewish and take care of this kidney swap,” she said. “It was such a great moment for us.”
In September 2012, Surendra Shenoy, MD, PhD, professor of surgery and director of the living donor transplant program at the transplant center, performed donor surgery on Andrea. Meanwhile, Doyle prepared John for his new kidney.
The surgeries were a success, and the father and daughter continue to do well.
“I really don’t feel sick any more,” John said. “I’m so grateful to my daughter for giving me this precious gift.”
Andrea said the transplant process was a blessing in disguise because not only did it improve her dad’s life, it’s the reason doctors found the tumor on her pancreas. She is now having her pancreas checked annually.
“Without this transplant, we probably wouldn’t be as happy and healthy as we are today,” she said.